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Moving to the United Kingdom

Throughout history, the United Kingdom has been an attractive destination for immigrants and expats. In the past, the country’s diverse economy and liberal immigration policies played a significant role in creating the dynamic ethnic tapestry seen in the UK today. However, over time the UK’s immigration requirements have become tighter, and now it's generally only expats with specialist skills that are in demand.

In June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU. While there has been much speculation, it will be unclear what the implications of this move will be for expats living in or moving to the UK until negotiations are completed. 

There are a number of strong sectors in the UK economy, including IT, engineering, finance, healthcare, energy, oil and gas, and construction. Expats with experience and sought-after skills in these sectors will find that there is plenty of scope for career progression in Britain.

Most expats moving to the UK from Western European countries or North America experience very little culture shock. However, new arrivals do have to make some adjustments to accommodate the high cost of living, typically cold and rainy climate and urban congestion in cities such as London, where a large proportion of expats move.  

Healthcare in the United Kingdom is by and large free and the National Health Service (NHS) is often said to be one of the country’s greatest assets. The standard of hospitals and medical facilities in the UK is good and expats will find that doctors and medical staff are well-trained and knowledgeable. Expats eligible to take advantage of the NHS should note, however, that while the service is free, appointments can be difficult to make and waiting times are often lengthy.

Expats moving to the UK with children will find that there are plenty of schooling options available, but the standards of education and schooling facilities vary considerably. Foreigners legally living in the UK are eligible to send their children to state schools which are funded by the government, but standards at these schools are sometimes low. Those who opt to have children educated at a private or international school should budget accordingly or have an allowance negotiated into their employment package as fees are often very high.

Public transport in the UK is generally of a very high standard and the quality of road infrastructure is excellent. Expats living in any of the major cities such as London, Manchester or Edinburgh won't need to own a car as public transport is very comprehensive and getting around is relatively stress-free.

Expats moving to the UK will also have access to a wealth of historical and cultural attractions available in a relatively compact space. City nightlife venues are excellent and expats in the UK will be treated to an abundance of high-quality restaurants specialising in a variety of exotic cuisines. Furthermore, the country is host to a number of exciting international sporting events and music festivals. Finally, when expats feel they need a break from the fast-paced city life or the gloomy weather, the UK is well positioned for easy and affordable travel to Europe and beyond.

Essential Info for the United Kingdom

Population: Over 66 million

Capital city: London (also the largest city)

Other major cities: Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Edinburgh, Manchester

Neighbouring countries: The UK shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. It is separated from France by the British Channel. Other neighbouring countries include Belgium, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Geography:  The UK is located off the northwestern coast of continental Europe. The majority of the UK is split across two islands – the island of Great Britain and the northeastern part of the island of Ireland. There are also a number smaller surrounding islands that make up the British Isles archipelago.

Major religions: Christianity

Political system: Parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Main languages: English

Money: The currency of the UK is the British Pound Sterling (GBP) which is subdivided into 100 pence. In order to open a bank account in the UK, most banks require proof of a local address and a form of official identification, such as a passport. 

Tipping: 10 to 15 percent of the bill if a service charge has not already been added.

Time: GMT (GMT+1 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.)

Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. Flat three-pin plugs are standard.

Internet domain: .uk

International dialling code: +44

Emergency contacts: 999 or 112

Transport and driving: Drive on the left-hand side. There is a variety of public transport options available in the UK and the transportation network is generally well-formed, both across the country and within most cities.

Weather in the United Kingdom

As an island on the edge of continental Europe, the United Kingdom is positioned at the convergence between the moist maritime and dry continental air currents, which results in atmospheric instability and extremely unpredictable weather. Many types of weather can be experienced in one day and rain is possible at any time of year.

Generally speaking, southern regions are more temperate and mild than northern regions. England enjoys the warmest temperatures on average and is generally more sunny and less rainy than the rest of the UK. Scotland has the coldest weather and is also the wettest country for most parts of the year. 

Winters, between December and February, are cold and wet with occasional snow, especially in Scotland and the high-lying areas of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Summers, between June and August, are warm and balmy, and although there are frequent showers expats are surprised to discover that the summer season is generally very pleasant and the days can be very long.

When the grim, grey weather of winter does lift the country comes alive and residents take advantage of the beautiful countryside and the large number of urban parks and gardens.

Embassy contacts for the United Kingdom

United Kingdom embassies

  • British Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 588 6500

  • British High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 237 1530

  • British High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6270 6666

  • British High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 421 7500

  • British Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 205 3700

  • British High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 924 2888


Foreign embassies in United Kingdom

  • United States Embassy, London: +44 20 7499 9000

  • Canadian High Commission, London: +44 20 7004 6600

  • Australian High Commission, London: +44 20 7379 4334

  • South African High Commission, London: +44 20 7451 7299

  • Irish Embassy, London: +44 20 7235 2171

  • New Zealand High Commission, London: +44 20 7930 8422

Public Holidays in the United Kingdom

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Good Friday

10 April

2 April

Early May Bank Holiday

8 May

3 May

Spring Holiday

25 May

31 May

Summer Holiday

31 August

30 August

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

*The above public holidays are celebrated throughout the United Kingdom, but there are a number of additional public holidays celebrated in only one or some of its regions. When a public holiday falls on a Saturday or a Sunday it is moved to the first available weekday.

Working in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is a leading global economy and, according to the International Monetary Fund, it has the fifth largest GDP in the world in 2018. It is also one of the most globalised economies and among the world's largest foreign direct investors. 

The UK's decision to leave the EU saw the pound fall to its lowest level in more than 30 years. However, it is still too early to determine the full impact of this and much will depend on the terms negotiated in the UK's exit deal. 


Job market in the United Kingdom

As is the case in most developed countries, the economy of the UK is overwhelmingly fuelled by the strength of its service sector, which accounts for almost 80 percent of its total GDP. The most prominent service sectors in the UK are banking, insurance and business.

However, while financial and creative industries are dominant in the UK, it remains one of the world’s largest manufacturing economies. Many important players in the aerospace industry are based in the UK and it is also home to a number of prominent pharmaceutical companies.


Finding work in the United Kingdom

At present, EU nationals have the right to live and work in the UK without needing to apply for a visa. Historically, this has given nationals of these countries an edge in the job market, since it requires less paperwork on the part of the employer than hiring someone from outside the EU. However, the future of EU expats in the UK remains uncertain in the wake of the UK's decision to leave the Union. At present, EU citizens are still free to enter the country and look for work, although they may find employers are less inclined to hire them in the current political climate.

Ideally, it is best to look for a job in person while in the UK. However, non-EU citizens will generally need a visa to enter the UK and there is no visa specifically for job seeking. While it's possible to enter on a visitor's visa, this does not allow expats to look for work. In order to apply for a work visa, expats will need to have a job offer in hand. This creates a catch-22 situation.

The best course of action in the case of expats unable to look for work from within the UK is to contact British recruitment agencies relevant to one's profession. Networking on websites such as LinkedIn can also be helpful.

Doing Business in the United Kingdom

Although no longer in the driver's seat of a worldwide empire, the United Kingdom is nonetheless a major global economic power, and many expats are interested in doing business in the UK.

Each of the UK's four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – retain their own unique characteristics. However, but when it comes to the working world, practices, etiquette and culture are fairly standardised as all are governed by a uniform respect for politeness and courtesy.

While the business world remains traditional in essence, the UK has become a thriving multicultural environment, and expats will find little ill-will directed toward enterprising foreigners.

The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020 ranked the UK 8th out of 190 economies. The country scored particularly well in protecting minority investors, getting electricity and resolving insolvency. The UK’s position as a popular place to do business is a clear result of its long-established political and economic stability, sound infrastructure and highly-skilled workforce.


Fast facts

Business hours

Usually 9am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays. Outside of the private sector, employees will often work much longer hours.

Business language

English is the main language of business in the United Kingdom.

Dress

Business dress depends on the industry, but for most, it's conservative and formal, with both men and women wearing dark suits (pantsuits are acceptable). Media companies tend to be an exception, with much more relaxed dress codes.

Greetings

A firm handshake is the best way to greet business contacts. It is best to address senior business colleagues using their formal title until directed otherwise.

Gifts

Not expected, and borderline inappropriate. A round of drinks, on the other hand, is happily received.

Gender equality

The UK is relatively equal in terms of gender in the workplace, although there are still barriers to full equality.


Business culture in the UK

The key to successfully doing business in the UK is being able to read between the lines. Expats should be aware that deciphering the difference between what a person says and what they actually mean could take some practice.

Communication style 

The British are a reserved lot who pride themselves on good behaviour and good manners. As a result, business dealings are incredibly diplomatic, with maximum effort directed at remaining considerate and civil. These fundamentals manifest in a restrained communication style, where directness is avoided and evasive, cryptic and often humorous statements are substituted for what is actually meant.

Expats will need to become adept at understanding the subtleties of conversation, where tone and facial expression may be key indicators of true meaning and humour is used as a defence mechanism or to mediate difficult situations.

Individualism

Individualism is highly valued in Britain, and expats should anticipate working among colleagues who are competitive and ambitious. Experience and performance are the foundations for advancement in the working world, and those in management positions tend to be well-rounded.

Business hierarchy

A traditional hierarchy is still important in UK business even though it's moved towards a more egalitarian approach, where positions are more or less parallel to each other rather than existing below or above one another. As a result, duties and responsibilities can sometimes be unclear, which can be a point of frustration for those expats accustomed to explicit directives and cultures of subordination.

Appropriate dress

The British business sphere is still very formal. Dress is conservative, punctuality is paramount, and outward displays of emotion are viewed with distaste.


Dos and don'ts of business in the UK

  • Don't underestimate the importance of polite requests. Specific instructions are often couched in a subtle ask.

  • Do use humour in the workplace. The British respect wit and irony, and often use these tactics to form relationships and to mediate difficult situations.

  • Don't ask colleagues or clients personal questions. The British are reserved and private and view this as intrusive and rude.

  • Do be on time. The British are punctual and tardiness is considered discourteous. If lateness can't be avoided, it's necessary to inform the relevant party ahead of time.

Visas for the United Kingdom

Whether one plans to travel, take up a short-term job offer or make a more permanent move to the UK, it's best that expats familiarise themselves with the types of visas available to them and apply accordingly.


General visitor visa for the United Kingdom

Foreigners visiting the UK on holiday may need a visa depending on their nationality. Those from a country outside the European Union and Switzerland will need a general visitor visa, which is usually valid for six months.

To get a general visitor visa for the UK, applicants will need to show that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit by providing proof of onward travel, a return ticket, or a letter from an employer stating that the applicant has a job in their home country and is expected to return by a given date. Applicants will also need proof of sufficient funds to support their travels without working or proof that they will be staying with friends or relatives in the UK. 

Foreign nationals who enter the UK on a tourist visa aren't able to take up any paid employment, enrol in any course of study, get married, register a civil partnership or receive private medical treatment. Tourist visas are strictly for those who wish to visit friends and family or travel the country.


Work visas for the United Kingdom

People moving to the UK from outside the EU will need some sort of work visa to be legally employed in Britain. There are a number of work visas to choose from and expats should take the time to investigate exactly which type applies to their circumstances.

Tier 2 Work Visas

These visas are granted to non-EU nationals who have a job offer in the UK from a licenced sponsor and a certificate of sponsorship. Applicants must meet the necessary criteria to be granted this type of visa. This visa is only granted to those with specialist skills and a confirmed job offer.

There are four different categories of skilled worker visas: General, Minister of Religion, Sports Person and Intra-company Transfer. The last category is designed for those employed by multinational companies who are being transferred by their employer to a United Kingdom branch of an overseas organisation.

Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visas

Expats who are interested in moving to the UK to work for a short period might be able to apply for a Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa. 

The Youth Mobility Scheme working holiday visa is available for nationals of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Monaco, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and Japan. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30 to apply. Those who qualify can enter the UK without a job offer and use this working holiday visa to work and travel. The scheme is designed to give young people the opportunity to live and work in the country for up to two years, and is a great way to see what living and working in the UK is actually like.

Expats who are not citizens of one of the countries in the Youth Mobility Scheme will need to have a job offer from a licenced sponsor in order to get a Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa in one of several categories: Creative and Sporting, Charity, Government Authorised Exchange Programs, or International Agreement.


Applying for a visa for the United Kingdom

Before moving to the UK, one must determine the appropriate visa for their situation and undergo the relevant application process. Application forms can be obtained from any UK embassy or online, but many people use a professional visa processing agency to ensure everything is handled properly.

It is best to apply for a UK visa well before the intended date of travel, as it's difficult to predict processing times and whether delays might arise along the way. The visa application process is also likely to be different in each expat's home country, so it is important for applicants to research the appropriate process for their country of origin. 

Application forms are only available in English and must be completed in English. Certified translations of any supporting documents in another language must also be submitted.  

It is also important to note that while a third party can assist an individual in completing the visa application, the expat must apply for the visa themselves rather than have someone do it on their behalf.

Those applying for work visa for the UK will also need to provide biometric information (fingerprints and facial image). This will be collected at the visa application centre. Depending on an individual’s country of origin, they may also need to provide proof that they have been screened for TB. 


Permanent residence in the United Kingdom 

Expats who want to remain in the United Kingdom in the longer term may be eligible to apply for permanent residence. Those who have lived legally in the UK for a certain length of time – usually five years – can apply, depending on the category of visa they currently possess.

Being a permanent resident means an individual has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK and is free from immigration control. These expats also have the freedom to live and work in the UK without restrictions. Those with indefinite leave to remain have a visa status known as ‘settled status’, which is a step towards naturalisation as a British citizen. 

There are a number of ways an expat can qualify for ILR, including:

  • Living in the UK for five years continuously as a work visa holder

  • Living in the UK for five years as the spouse of a British citizen or a person with settled status

  • Being the holder of a British ancestral visa and having lived within the UK for five years

  • Living in the UK lawfully for 10 years

  • Living in the UK unlawfully for 14 years

Those who apply for ILR status cannot have been outside the UK for longer than six months at any time during the relevant period. It is also beneficial for applicants to demonstrate that they have strong ties to the UK and consider it home –for example, owning a property or business in the country.

Permanent residents who only spend short periods of time in the UK may risk losing their ILR status. In cases such as this, expats should consider applying for British citizenship as soon as they can, which is usually a year after being granted ILR status.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in the United Kingdom

As with most popular expat destinations, the cost of living in the United Kingdom varies depending on lifestyle choices and location. In general, expats will find that major cities like London are more expensive, while countryside towns are far more reasonable.

Many expats move to the UK in search of new job opportunities and a better quality of life. Although salaries tend to be relatively high, the reason for this is often to offset the higher cost of living in the United Kingdom.

There are plenty of ways to save while still experiencing expat life in the UK. For example, most expats living in the United Kingdom will have access to at least some level of free healthcare on the country's National Health Service, and they'll be eligible to send their children to British state schools at no cost.

The costs of accommodation, transport and entertainment are fairly high, but expats who take the time to investigate the cost of living in the United Kingdom will also find plenty of discounts around.


Cost of accommodation in the United Kingdom

As is the case for expats all over the world, a significant portion of their income will be spent on accommodation. Renting doesn’t come cheap, especially in London, but most expats still choose this over buying property in the UK, which is much more expensive.

London has the country's most expensive rent, though there are still large price variations between different areas in the city. Rent in other big cities such as Manchester and Glasgow will be a little more reasonable but still pricey, while rental costs in smaller towns will generally be on the lower side of the scale. Some students and young expats choose to rent a room within a larger house or apartment. House-shares are also a great way to meet other young people.

Utility costs vary depending on the size of the property. It's worth noting that heating costs can increase considerably during winter, particularly in an airy older property without proper insulation.

Council tax is usually not included in the cost of renting a property in the UK and is loosely based on the value of the property.


Cost of education in the United Kingdom

Expats with temporary residency in the UK will be eligible to send their children to a state school at no cost. Standards vary considerably and the better state schools tend to be located in more affluent areas. Parents will be required to pay for uniforms, stationery and school excursions.

British private schools, or independent schools as they are commonly called, charge high fees. These schools usually offer a higher standard of education and a host of extracurricular activities.

Many expats living in the UK send their children to an international school that allows their child to continue studying the same syllabus as they would in their home country and therefore offer the least disruption to the child’s education. Fees at these schools can be extremely high.


Cost of transportation in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is served by a national network of trains and long-distance buses, but with the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe it is also possible to fly between cities at very reasonable prices. Train travel in the UK can be expensive, though travellers can save money by booking the journey well in advance or by investing in a railcard. Travelling by long-distance bus in the UK is a more economical option, however.

Within British cities, the price of public transportation varies considerably. London has the UK’s most comprehensive public transportation network but fares are relatively expensive. Commuters can save money by investing in weekly or monthly travel cards.

While most expats living in the UK won’t invest in a car, it is fairly cheap to buy and maintain one. Petrol prices fluctuate but are reasonable compared to elsewhere.


Cost of healthcare in the United Kingdom

One of Britain’s greatest assets is its National Health Service (NHS). Public healthcare in the UK is free to all British citizens and permanent residents. Citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to pay for medical treatment in the UK. Non-EEA expats who are "ordinarily resident" (i.e. in the country for longer than six months but not yet a permanent resident) must pay a yearly surcharge in order to have access to the NHS. 

The United Kingdom also has some excellent private healthcare facilities and private healthcare is the best option for those who want to avoid long waiting lists and are happy to pay for speedier service. The cost of private health insurance varies according to how comprehensive the policy is and the state of an individual’s health.


Cost of living in the United Kingdom chart

Prices vary across the UK – these are average costs for London in February 2020. Prices may vary depending on product and service provider.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

GBP 3,200 - 4,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

GBP 2,500 - 3,200

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

GBP 1,500 - 2,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

GBP 1,200 - 1,500

Food and drink

Milk (1 litre)

GBP 1

Dozen eggs

GBP 32

Loaf of white bread 

GBP 1.20

Rice (1kg)

GBP 1.30

Packet of cigarettes (Marlboro)

GBP 11

Transportation

City centre bus/train fare

 GBP 2.50

Taxi rate per km

 GBP 2.50

Petrol/gasoline per litre

 GBP 1.30

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

 GBP 6

Coca-Cola (330ml)   

 GBP 1.40

Cappucino

 GBP 3

Bottle of beer

GBP 5

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

GBP 55

Utilities

Internet (uncapped ADSL per month)

GBP 35

Mobile call rate (mobile-to-mobile per minute)

GBP 0.10

Utilities (average per month for standard household)

GBP 100

Culture Shock in the United Kingdom

Most expats moving to the United Kingdom have very few problems adjusting to the culture. Larger cities like London and Manchester are incredibly diverse with a multitude of cultures staking claim to various neighbourhoods and streets. Every type of cuisine, obscure grocery item and cultural accessory is readily available.

Expats moving outside of cosmopolitan locations will experience more of traditional middle-class Britain, with a fairly standard set of values and traditions that are familiar to anyone from a Western background.

English is spoken widely, although strong regional accents may convince expats otherwise.

Traditionally, the British are polite, reticent and circumspect – although such is the diversity of classes and cultures that few stereotypes hold up very well to personal experience. It's better to think of the UK as a whole world on one island and adopt an accordingly open mind.


Regional identities in the United Kingdom

The UK comprises four separate but interdependent countries, namely England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While there aren't great differences in everyday modes of social behaviour from one part of the UK to another, there are some aspects of culture that are quite symbolic of national or local difference. Factors such as support for the monarchy, political affiliation and the support of football teams are some of the most obvious expressions of contemporary localism. Religious adherence and ethnic differentiation are also significant.

Although most expats move to the capital, London, it is important that new arrivals are not only aware of these geographical distinctions, but also the strong sense of identity and nationalism felt by the populations of each nation. 

It's important not to confuse the terms ‘English’ and ‘British’ as they mean very different things. ‘British’ can be applied to someone from any of the four nations, but calling someone ‘English' means the person comes from England. Those from Scotland are Scottish, those from Wales are Welsh, and those from Northern Ireland can be referred to as Irish.

Although this may seem like an obvious point, calling someone from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland ‘English’ can cause offence as members of these nations have a strong sense of loyalty to their country and its distinct culture.


Communication in the United Kingdom

Historically, the British have been known for their stiff upper lip and the ‘Blitz spirit’ demonstrated during World War II. This grin-and-bear-it attitude in the face of hardship and adversity is still apparent today.

As a population, the British tend not to be too animated when they communicate. This doesn't mean they don't have strong emotions, but rather that they merely choose not to display these in public. Many of the older generation will avoid public displays of affection.

Expats may also find that people in the UK seem more distant and reserved than those from North America and southern Europe. They like their personal space and prefer to maintain a little distance between themselves and the person they are speaking to. 

The British value their privacy and expats shouldn't expect a tour of the home when visiting a British friend. They expect others to respect their privacy and this extends to personal questions. As well as avoiding discussions on someone’s financial situation or relationships, expats should be careful in asking a British person where they are from as this can potentially be seen as an attempt to place the person on the social or class scale. 


Cultural etiquette in the United Kingdom

The UK is a multicultural society made up of various ethnic communities, each with their own standards of social behaviour and cultural etiquette. But there are some points expats might find useful when interacting with the British.

When meeting someone for the first time it is best to offer a handshake. Hugs are only appropriate for people one is more familiar with.

When visiting the home of a British friend or colleague, it is good to take a gift of chocolates, wine or flowers for the host.

The British appreciate punctuality, not just in business but also at social occasions. It is best to make every attempt to arrive on time for any type of appointment. Expats running late for a meeting should call ahead to let someone know as tardiness is regarded as a lack of respect.

Accommodation in the United Kingdom

The quality and affordability of housing in the United Kingdom varies widely. While expats will struggle to find spacious, high-quality accommodation that doesn't break the bank in notoriously expensive London, there are many areas of the UK where people can still find lovely housing at a decent price.


Types of accommodation in the United Kingdom

Accommodation in the UK is generally in the form of houses – whether freestanding or as rowhouses – and apartments (known as flats). All these forms of housing are widespread throughout the UK, with flats dominating in the more urban areas. 

House-sharing (renting an individual room in a larger house shared by others) is another popular option among single expats in the United Kingdom – and is an avenue usually pursued out of financial necessity.


Finding accommodation in the United Kingdom

Finding a place to rent in the UK is a straightforward process, but it can be made more difficult by the speed at which the market moves. Expats should be prepared to move quickly when they see a place they like, as the competition for good-value rentals can be cut-throat. In some cases, it may even be necessary to commit to the property during the initial viewing.

As far as finding a place to rent goes, expats can look into the following options:

  • Local newspapers and magazines carry private listings – tenants will be able to call the owner or landlord directly to arrange a viewing.
  • Websites and internet property portals regularly publish rental adverts. These are especially good for house-sharing options (use 'room to rent' as a search term).
  • Real estate agents are a dependable source of information and help when it comes to looking for a place to rent, but they charge for their services.

Renting accommodation in the UK

Lease agreements in the UK are generally signed on a six-month or one-year basis, with an option to renew should the tenant desire to do so. A six-month break clause can be negotiated for 12-month leases, allowing the tenant to back out of the full term with 30 or 60 days notice. Expats must be wary of this clause as it cuts both ways – and since rental prices are attached to market prices in the UK, an unscrupulous landlord might look to break the rental agreement early should these fluctuate and charge new tenants a higher monthly fee.

Note that expats will also be required to provide four to six weeks' rent as a deposit to secure a rental agreement. Tenants will also likely be liable for their own gas, electricity, water, phone, internet and council tax bills while renting in the UK.

Renting property in the United Kingdom

The majority of expats in the United Kingdom opt to rent rather than buy property. This is partly due to the temporary nature of expat assignments and also due to the high cost of housing, especially in the capital.

The process of renting property is generally the same throughout the UK, although finding property in larger, more populous cities is often much harder.


Types of rental accommodation in the United Kingdom

Expats moving to the United Kingdom will find a variety of properties available to them. From quaint rustic cottages in the countryside to large family homes in the suburbs and slick city apartments, expats will always have access to something that suits their requirements.  

Expats will also find that in most British cities, space comes at a premium and city centre apartments tend to be small. Thanks to good public transport links, however, it is possible to commute to work quite easily which affords people more options.

Rental costs, especially in major cities like London, Edinburgh and Manchester, are notoriously high. Expats should consider negotiating an accommodation allowance into their employment contract if possible.


Finding rental accommodation in the United Kingdom

Finding a property to rent in the UK isn’t too difficult, especially for those who are flexible in terms of the exact area they want to live. Online property portals are a great starting point as they allow expats to do research into the cost and availability of properties in various areas, even before they arrive in the UK.

The easiest option when it comes to finding property in the UK is enlisting the services of an estate agent. Estate agents have an intimate knowledge of the property market in a given city or region and can advise new arrivals on neighbourhoods that are most suitable for them.

Local newspapers and property magazines are also a good source of information and expats can deal directly with the landlord in such cases.


Signing a lease in the United Kingdom

Once expats have found a suitable property they will have to sign the lease in order to secure it. Lease agreements in the UK are generally signed for six months or a year, with the option to extend.

Usually, with one-year leases, a six-month break clause can be negotiated. This allows the tenant to terminate the contract any time after the first six months by giving the landlord either one or two months’ notice. However, if this negotiable clause is included, expats should note that it also allows landlords to terminate the lease early without needing to give a reason. Considering that rental prices continually fluctuate in the UK, unscrupulous landlords may decide to end a lease in order to find a new tenant who is willing to pay more rent.  

Most landlords in the UK will expect tenants to provide a security deposit which amounts to at least one month’s rental price. In some cases, references and letters from an employer or payslips will be required to secure a property.


Utilities in the United Kingdom

When expats are signing a rental contract, they should make sure it's clear what additional costs they may be liable for. These are some of the costs that are not typically included in rental prices and do have the potential to significantly increase an expat’s monthly expenses quite significantly so they need to be taken into account:  

  • Council tax

  • Gas/electricity

  • Water

  • Phone line rental

  • Internet

Healthcare in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading healthcare systems.

The NHS is a residence-based system, meaning that anyone living in the UK legally and on a permanent basis has access to NHS services and funding. Generally speaking, non-EEA citizens must have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) status to be considered ordinarily resident, while it's usually easier for expats from Switzerland and the EEA to be classified as such. Those who are not considered ordinarily resident but who are in the country for longer than six months are considered "overseas visitors" and will be liable to pay an NHS surcharge, which will give them access to NHS services. However, regardless of their immigration status, all expats in the UK are entitled to free emergency treatment at NHS hospitals.

Treatment at public hospitals is generally of a good standard, though expats looking to take advantage of the NHS should be prepared for long waits and hard-to-get appointments. Private hospitals in the UK tend to specialise in a particular type of care. Patients will be seen to much quicker, but the cost of treatment at private hospitals is high, so most people avoid going to them unless they have health insurance.


Public healthcare in the United Kingdom

GPs are the first point of contact for most people and can refer patients to other specialist NHS services. Once in the UK, expats should choose a local GP in their area and book an appointment to register as a patient.

Expats should note that while public healthcare throughout the United Kingdom operates under the umbrella of the NHS, each country within the UK has its own branch of the NHS. Therefore, while the general process of accessing public healthcare is more or less the same, there may be slight policy differences, such as whether prescription medication is subsidised or fully funded. Expats can find out more by visiting the NHS website of the country they will be moving to.


Dentists

UK dentists are world-class, but unlike GPs, they are not free to all residents. NHS dentists are subsidised by UK taxpayers, and do provide check-ups and essential dental treatments for a relatively low fixed charge. Any treatment that is cosmetic will need to be done by a private dentist and, while standards are the same in both the private and NHS dentists, private practices can offer higher quality fillings or crowns. See a full list of treatments covered by the NHS on the NHS England website. Expats should register with a local dentist once they have settled in.


Private healthcare in the United Kingdom

Private healthcare and dental care in the UK can be expensive but it does guarantee preferential treatment and, crucially, freedom from the long waiting lists that many NHS patients complain about. Most specialists doctors (consultants) work in both the private and state sector, so once at the front of the queue, the standard of medical care in the NHS is as high as in the private sector. Private hospitals are plentiful and located throughout the country. Some of the UK's best specialists are located on Harley Street in central London.


Health insurance in the United Kingdom

Private health insurance will allow access to the shorter waiting times of the private healthcare sector. Many health insurance providers also offer international coverage for when expats travel back to their home country, or when travelling overseas in general. 

Employers in the UK are not obligated by law to provide medical insurance to their employees. While some employers might make contributions towards private healthcare, in most cases, expats will need to pay for their own health insurance. With the range of health insurance products on offer it is best to do a fair amount of research and comparison in order to find the best policy to suit each individual's healthcare needs.


Medicines and pharmacies in the United Kingdom

Pharmacies, or chemists as they are more commonly referred to in the UK, can be found easily on all major high streets and in shopping centres. 

Most medicines are easily available. If a certain type of medication is not available, pharmacies in most UK cities can have it ordered in. For certain types of medicine one will need a prescription from a GP, while others are available over the counter.

Expats will often find a pharmacy located close to a GP's surgery or hospital. Independent pharmacies are fast disappearing in the UK and being taken over by chains such as Boots and Superdrug, which sell beauty goods alongside health and medical products.


Pre-travel vaccinations for the United Kingdom

No special vaccinations are required for expats moving to the UK. However, it recommended that routine vaccinations are kept up to date.


Emergency medical services in the UK

Emergency calls should be made to 999 or the general European emergency number, 112. The operator will then dispatch an ambulance to the location of the incident. Alternatively, one can call 111 when immediate medical help is needed but it is not a 999 emergency. If it is less critical, expats can make their own way to the nearest hospital with an accident and emergency unit for immediate treatment.  

Education and Schools in the United Kingdom

For expats moving to the United Kingdom with children, making the right choice when it comes to picking a school is a top priority. Attending the right school will play a significant role in ensuring a successful transition into expat life in the UK for little ones.

Factors that will affect the choice of school for expat children include the child’s previous schooling experience, academic ability and English language capability.

Expat parents should note that most government-funded schools in the UK and some private schools base admission on catchment areas. Therefore, it is important to choose a school before deciding where to live within a city. Private schools and international schools with boarding facilities for students offer greater flexibility.


Education system in the United Kingdom

The education systems and schooling options do vary slightly between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Typically, the academic year in the United Kingdom starts in September and ends in July, with the main breaks in December, March/April and July/August.

The schooling system is divided into four levels:

  • Early years: Ages 3 to 4

  • Primary education: Ages 4 to 11

  • Secondary education: Ages 11 to 18

  • Tertiary education: Ages 18+

Education is compulsory in the UK for children between the ages of five and 17. Children usually start primary school during the school year in which they turn five. Secondary school for most children start aged 11. Secondary schools correspond broadly to the public high school in the United States, Canada and Australia and to the Gesamtschule in Germany. Students have the option of finishing school at the age of 16 or 17 after completing their GCSEs or continuing their secondary studies for a further two years where they have the option of studying for A-levels or BTEC awards.

More and more schools in the UK are now offering students the opportunity to study for the International Baccalaureate (IB), which is recognised internationally. 

There are a confusing number of different options when it comes to schooling in the UK. Each type of school is unique and offers different benefits. With such a wide variety of options, there is sure to be something to suit the needs and budget of every expat family. 


State-funded schools in the United Kingdom

State-funded schools in the United Kingdom State schools are provided by the government at no cost to British citizens and foreigners legally living in the UK. These schools are effectively funded by tax payers.

The standard of education at state schools varies considerably. Some offer excellent teaching and facilities, while other schools continue to perform badly in terms of the academic results of their students every year. Generally, the better state-funded schools will be found in more affluent areas.

Expats should consult the school's Ofsted (Office of Standards in Education) report to find out about the quality of teaching and facilities at a particular school as well as how the students at the school are doing academically.

Admission criteria vary from one school to the next. Most of the popular state schools will base admissions on a particular catchment area, and expats should be aware of this when deciding where to live in the UK. While international students are treated equally to British students, some schools will be reluctant to offer places to those that have no long-term plans to remain in Britain.

Most state schools are either community schools, which are run by the local Council, foundation schools or voluntary schools, which have more freedom in the way they operate.  Faith schools also have to follow the National Curriculum, but can choose what they teach in religious studies and have more flexibility over admissions. There are some Special Schools that are designed for children with special educational needs and can specialise in areas such as autism and speech and language needs.

Other types of state-funded schools include Grammar Schools, Academies and Free Schools.

Grammar Schools

Grammar schools are state secondary schools that are academically selective.  Their pupils are selected by means of an examination taken by children at age 11, known as the 11-plus.  There are only about 163 grammar schools in England, out of some 3,000 state secondary schools. There are 69 in Northern Ireland. 

Academies

Originally, Academies were established to replace struggling inner-city schools. While part of the state system of education they are not controlled by the Local Council. Academies only have to follow the National Curriculum only in core subjects such as English, maths and science. They receive their funding mostly from the central government but also partly from private sponsorship. There are nearly 4,000 academies in the UK, most of them secondary schools for students aged 11 to 16.

Free Schools

Free Schools are a type of Academy and are run by non-profit making trusts, like parent groups, charities or religious associations. Some expat parents opt for a free school for their cultural and religious emphasis, for instance a Jewish or Hindu Free School. There are around 400 Free Schools in the UK.


Private schools in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has a tradition of private schools, which are also called independent schools. These schools generally follow the British curriculum but offer a wider range of subjects. However, more and more private schools in the UK are starting to offer students the opportunity to study for the International Baccalaureate.

Private schools tend to offer a higher standard of teaching and smaller class sizes. However, fees at private schools are high. On top of school fees, parents should also budget for other expenses such as uniforms and stationery. Most private schools do offer a limited number of scholarships for students who are particularly gifted.

The admission criteria for private schools vary from school to school. Students will be expected to attend an interview and pass an entrance exam for admission to most private schools in the United Kingdom.


International schools in the United Kingdom

International schools are a popular option for expat families living in the United Kingdom. These schools follow a variety of different curricula from across the globe.

International schools allow students to continue studying the same syllabus as they were studying at home, and are good for those who do not plan on living in the United Kingdom in the long-term.

There are a range of international schools in the UK following the American, French and Japanese national curricula. London has the largest variety of international schools, as this is the city with the biggest expat population.

Fees charged at international schools in the United Kingdom are hefty. Expats considering this option should try to negotiate an allowance into their employment contracts to cover the cost of school fees.

Transport and Driving in the United Kingdom

Expats moving to the United Kingdom will find it fairly easy to travel nationally. Extensive train and long-distance bus networks make travelling between major destinations straightforward, and the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe has made flying a viable option. 

While owning a car is not essential for expats, those that do will find that the condition of the roads and infrastructure is excellent, and that getting around the United Kingdom by car can be a real pleasure. 


Public transport in the United Kingdom

Trains

Trains are the most popular mode of public transport in the United Kingdom. National Rail operates the railway network that covers England, Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland Railways is in charge of the train network in Northern Ireland.

While National Rail oversees the railways on mainland Britain, expats will find that there are a lot of different companies offering train services as a result of privatisation.

Despite some criticism about network delays and overcrowding during peak hours, expats living in the United Kingdom will find that travelling by train is generally a fast, enjoyable way to get around and see the country.

Train tickets can be purchased at any train station or online and are usually the same price regardless of which train operator commuters use. However, cheaper tickets may carry restrictions and some services stop at more places or take a longer route to get to their final destination. 

Expats can also save money on train fares by booking tickets in advance or using a discount card such as the Student Rail Card (for 16- to 25-year-olds) or the Senior Rail Card (for those over 60).

For those who travel by train regularly, it's worth investing in a season ticket, which is valid for either a week, a month or a year. Prices of a season ticket depend on the routes travelled.

Buses and coaches

Long-distance buses in the United Kingdom are commonly referred to as coaches. Travelling by bus will usually take longer than the equivalent journey on a train, on account of traffic. Like trains in the United Kingdom, long-distance buses tend to take passengers right into the centre of town.

The main bus service provider in the UK is called National Express and serves all major destinations in the UK. Megabus is an alternative service provider that covers a limited number of the major cities, but it's inexpensive and popular among students.

Travelling by bus is fairly comfortable and services are rarely fully booked. The main benefit of travelling by bus in the United Kingdom is cost. Bus fares are often less than half of what one would pay for the equivalent train journey, especially if booked in advance or on a special offer. Tickets can either be bought online or at bus terminals.


Taxis in the United Kingdom

Taxis are readily available in the United Kingdom. There are two types: metered black cabs that can be hailed in the street and are found in all larger towns and cities, and minicabs which usually need to be pre-booked online or over the phone.

Ride-hailing applications such as Uber are also operational throughout most of the country, although Uber's operating licence in London was temporarily revoked in 2017. 

Taxis in the United Kingdom can be expensive and should be reserved for travelling short distances within the city centre, travelling late at night or with a group of friends.

When using a taxi in the United Kingdom, expats should always check that the driver’s taxi licence number is displayed on the dashboard and that the meter displays the correct rate.


Driving in the United Kingdom

Owning a car isn't a necessity for expats living in the UK. In fact, it will be of little benefit to those who spend most of their time in one city, which likely has comprehensive public transport. However, having a car can be useful when it comes to getting around the country and for exploring the countryside.

Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK drives on the left-hand side of the road. Most cars in the UK are manual transmission, so expats who plan on hiring a car will need to specifically request an automatic vehicle if they require one.

The standard of roads and signage in the United Kingdom is excellent and there are very few toll roads. Driving standards in the UK are good and the country’s roads are considered to be among the safest in Europe.

Parking can be expensive and difficult to find, especially in London. Petrol is heavily taxed in the UK, and expats from the Middle East and the USA will find that prices are higher than at home.

Traffic can be a problem, especially during rush hour, and a number of cities in the United Kingdom have Park and Ride schemes to try and alleviate congestion. These car parks are mostly located at the edge of a city, with cheap buses provided to transport commuters to the city centre, and the schemes are a great option in major cities as it saves on the cost of parking fees, petrol and time.

Expats in the UK can drive on their licence from home for 12 months, assuming they are citizens of a non-EEA country. Meanwhile, EEA expats will only need to replace their licence once it expires.


Domestic flights in the United Kingdom

With the growth of low-cost airlines in Europe, it has become possible for people to fly to and from all of the UK’s major cities.

Major airports can be found in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Cardiff and Belfast.

Flight prices fluctuate all the time but are usually reasonable when booked in advance and domestic carriers such as Easy Jet and Ryanair often run special offers.  

While flying is the fastest way of travelling across the UK, expats should note that because most airports are located on the outskirts of a city they'll probably have to take a bus or train to the city centre after arriving at their destination. This, combined with the fact that passengers need to check in 90 minutes ahead of time for domestic flights, means that in reality it could be faster to travel by train.


Cycling in the United Kingdom

The standard of infrastructure for cyclists in the United Kingdom is variable and depends on location. Most cities in the UK have designated cycle lanes, which are sometimes ignored by drivers. On major roads one may find split-pavements shared by pedestrians and cyclists. Bicycle parking is available in most cities and is often free of charge. Bicycles are only permitted on certain train services.  

Keeping in Touch in the United Kingdom

With highly developed communications infrastructure, expats will have no problem taking advantage of the latest technology in order to keep in touch in the United Kingdom  – with those back home as well as to cultivate new relationships.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty comes in researching the most effective and economical package for an individual's communication needs and then making time to have the technology installed amid what is an often erratic expat schedule. 


Telephone lines in the United Kingdom

BT is the national company for telephone lines and runs the telephone network, with a few exceptions. In some areas, Virgin has its own line and people in the area can opt to use that instead of the BT line.

Some people may not want a landline, especially if they are planning on only using a mobile phone. However, a person will have to have a landline if they would like broadband in their home, so will still need to go through the motions of setting one up.

An engineer will have to come out to the property to install the landline if it is a new build or reactivate the landline if there is already a line installed. Sometimes it’s not necessary for the engineer to visit the property and the telephone company can reactivate a landline from their control centre.


Internet in the United Kingdom

Setting up broadband can be a slow and frustrating business, and it is often necessary to deal with several departments of the relevant broadband provider to organise set-up. If expats need immediate access to the internet during the set-up process they can reduce the inconvenience by:

  • Purchasing a mobile broadband dongle on a pay-as-you-go programme, which can be bought from most mobile phone shops

  • Setting up all communication accounts at once – telephone, broadband and television

ADSL broadband

ADSL is by far the most popular choice of UK broadband. However, this type of broadband uses an existing telephone line. Therefore, if a home does not have an active telephone line set up, expats will need to have this sorted before arranging for broadband installation

Cable broadband (Virgin)

It is important to begin by checking that cable services are available in the local area. This can be done by phoning Virgin. If the area is covered, residents are able to sign up for fibre, which offers faster internet speeds.


Satellite television packages in the United Kingdom

Virgin Media

The advantage of having a Virgin Media package is that the Virgin engineer will install the telephone line, broadband and television package all in one day. They are able to do this as Virgin has its own phone lines, so does not have to use BT phone lines. Virgin offers a wide range of packages to suit different requirements.

BT

Expats will need to have a telephone line installed or reactivated before the broadband can be set up. BT also supplies BT Vision television packages which work through the television aerial.

Sky

Sky supplies the most popular television packages in the UK. It also supplies broadband and telephone line packages. Sky is not able to install a telephone line, broadband and television package in one day, as Sky uses BT telephone lines. So, first customers need to have a BT telephone line installed or reactivated before the television package and broadband can be installed. Therefore, an expat would need to set up an installation date for the BT engineer to install a phone line, followed by another installation date for the Sky engineer to install the Sky TV package. Sky offers a wide range of packages to suit different requirements.

Banking, Money and Taxes in the United Kingdom

Opening a bank account will be a priority for those moving to the United Kingdom. Although this is a fairly simple process, expats will need proof of income and employment. In some cases, they will also need to provide evidence of a local address. 

Online banking is a standard feature offered by all banks in the United Kingdom and makes managing everyday finances simple. 


Money in the United Kingdom

The official currency in the United Kingdom is the British Pound (£). One pound (GBP) is divided into 100 pence. 

  • Notes: 5 GBP, 10 GBP, 20 GBP and 50 GBP

  • Coins: 1 GBP and 2 GBP, and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pence


Banking in the United Kingdom 

Opening a bank account in the UK can be a frustrating process for expats, and with so many options, choosing the best institution can often be the most complicated part.

In order to open a bank account in the UK, most banks require proof of income and employment, evidence of a local address, and a passport. Some banks allow expats to open a bank account before they have arrived in the UK. 

It can be helpful to have a letter of introduction from a bank in an expat's home country testifying to their financial track record. A series of recent bank account statements is also useful. Banks vary in the strictness of their requirements so shop around.

The major banks are HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Santander UK. 

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs are readily available in all major towns and cities in the UK and are operation 24/7. Customers can use the ATM of any other UK bank without incurring any additional changes. However, expats using foreign-issued bank cards are likely to incur bank charges for each transaction at an ATM in the UK. 

More and more people in the UK avoid carrying large sums of cash and retailers accept major debit and credit cards for even the smallest payment. 


Taxes in the United Kingdom

Expats who have lived in the UK for over 183 days across the tax year must pay tax on their UK as well as their overseas-generated income, subject to any double taxation agreements. The UK has a personal tax allowance of £12,500 (2019/20). Any earnings above this are taxed. Tax rate is 20 percent up to an annual salary of £50,000, then 40 percent up to £150,000, and 45 percent above this.

In addition to income tax, employees are required to pay a National Insurance contribution of 12 percent of their annual income between between £8,628 and £50,000. 

Tax regulations can be complicated, and they often change. Expats are advised to consult a tax expert, preferably one who specialises in expat taxes, to find out the latest information.

Expat Experiences in the United Kingdom

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats living and working there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in the UK and would like to share your story.


Kimberley Mueller is an American expat who moved to London 2014 after spending most of her life in New York and Washington. While she acknowledges having to make some small adjustments when moving from the USA, the pros of efficient public transport, opportunities to travel around Europe and the diverse local community have more than made up for what she misses about home. You can get an insight into expat life in London by reading Kimberly's interview with Expat Arrivals. 

Danielle Sasaki is a Candian expat who moved from Winnipeg, Canada to rural Aberdeenshire in Scotland to start life with her husband. Danielle is a teacher who enjoys running and blogging in her spare time. You can read more about Danielle's thoughts on expat life in Scotland in her interview with Expat Arrivals.

Meghan Fenn is an American expat who has been living in the UK for the past eleven years. She is married to a British man and they live in Worthing with their three children. Meghan is the author of a book about raising kids abroad, Bringing Up Brits: Expat Parents Raising Cross-Cultural Kids in Britain. Read her expat experience in Britain.

Meghan - An America expat in Britain

Michael Harling was born and grew up in rural, upstate New York.  He never entertained the notion of moving to another country until he visited Ireland in 2001 and met a Sussex gal. Six months later he had quit his 25-year civil service career, given up his apartment, sold his brand new car and was married and living in Sussex. Here is his experience of living in West Sussex in the UK.

Suzanne Doyle-Morris, PhD is the author of Beyond the Boys’ Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male Dominated Field. She also runs a fast-track career development programme for high potential professional females. Born in Alice Springs, Australia, and raised in Washington DC, Suzanne now lives in Scotland. This is her experience of expat life in Edinburgh.

Wendy McCooey is an expat Texas who has brought to her life in London an energy and curiosity beyond compare. The result of her in-depth knowledge of London's nooks and crannies is a new tour company that allows her to share the city's delights with visitors. She tells all in her account of expat life in London.