It was because of Harry Potter that I dreamt of moving to the UK. I was about 15 when I started flirting with the idea of studying abroad. The potential discovery of a secret world of wizardry definitely encouraged my moving to England. It wasn’t until February 2008 when I got my letter of acceptance from the University of Manchester. Later that year, I immigrated to the UK.
Moving to the UK was not easy, in fact, it was one of the most difficult milestones in my life. It took not only courage but a lot of hoops to understand a new system, integrate into a new society and deal with the cultural shock. This article is a comprehensive guide on moving to the UK coming from the experience of an expat. I lived in the UK for almost 10 years and I loved most of my time there. I finished a degree, moved cities, made friends, got married and created two successful startups. I am now what you would call a naturalised British Citizen, who recently decided to move away from the UK and start a new chapter in Portugal.
Table of Contents
Moving to the UK
As with every major decision in your life, moving to the UK should be seriously considered. Although it’s a nice country which can offer a lot of opportunities, there are a lot of factors which should be taken into account. First, you should understand why you wish to live in the UK. What is it about the country which you love so much? Make a list and write your reasoning next to everything you like. Are going to work, study or invest? Are you up to date with the UK visa application process? Are you ok with the current political and economic situation in the UK? Do you need a UK immigration lawyer? Do you have enough money to live in the UK or will you find a job which will cover all your living costs? Are you prepared to deal with the weather? Before you embark on your adventure, have a look at our comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before moving abroad. We did this twice, so we are aware of all the hardship that comes with such big lifestyle change.
I am a European citizen by birth, which gave me a huge advantage back in 2008 when I immigrated to the UK. It was the year Romania just joined the EU, hence I had the chance to move to the UK visa-free. I had a lot of other problems, though, as I needed to get a Yellow Card before I could get any job. With this card, I was eligible for only 20 hours of work a week and since this was my only income, it made it pretty difficult to maintain myself. Nevertheless, I didn’t give up, and here I am, alive and well.
As you already know, Britain voted to leave the EU, which means there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to UK visa applications. We don’t quite know what is going to happen to all EU citizens who currently live and work in the UK. We also don’t know what type of Visas EU citizens will require moving forward. It is because of this that I cannot offer advice on visa applications at this time. I will be sure to update this article as we go along, and provide, fresh, up-to-date information once I know more. For a more detailed information about the current visa situation, please visit the UK Government website.
Work in the UK
There are several occupations which are in short supply in the UK. You can find an up-to-date official list on the Government Website.
In general, it’s good to know that the UK is currently on the lookout for scientists, medical practitioners, science teachers, chefs and engineers. You can usually find a vacancy in the hospitality or retail sector, but there are fewer chances of you getting sponsorship from your employer for a job like this.
There are a few things you need to be aware when you decide to work in the UK. Most British companies have specific hierarchies in place whereby managers are in charge of their employees and take their jobs seriously. Being a good manager means being able to lead a team, whilst proactively communicating with your employees in order to increase efficiency. Teamwork is highly valued in the UK and it is common for coworkers to form bonds at work and go out for drinks after work. In fact, I met most of my friends this way. People are easy going and usually very inclusive. As with most new roles, it takes a while for the rest of your coworkers to get to know you, but in a few weeks, you will already find yourself having new friends. When you start a new role, you usually get invited to join other colleagues for lunch breaks, so you can socialise and get to know one another.
It is good to know that the British do love their meetings. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a job without a daily catch up. It might be difficult to get used to it, but simply grab a cup of tea and have the schedule ready. Meetings tend to also be planned way in advance, as well as one-to-ones whereby you have a meeting with your managers to discuss your performance and areas of improvement. Once a year, you usually have a meeting to discuss a potential promotion or salary increase. Not all companies do this, however.
You do have a lot of rights as an employee in the UK and the good news is that most of them are taken seriously. Every company has its own internal way of dealing with complaints, but should all fail, you do have enough free advice available to guide you on your quest to justice. You should remember the Citizens Advice Bureau which offers free, unbiased guidance.
When you start working somewhere, make sure you read through and fully understand your contract. The moment you start your work, keep track of all your responsibilities and accomplishments. Should someone bother or bully you, make sure you have a sheet to hand whereby you note everything down, including the date and hour. Keep track of all these, so when you escalate your issue to the HR department you have proof and detailed information.
The British are polite and formal, but you will notice sarcasm, irony and a uniquely British sense of humour which can express criticism in a more indirect manner. This is difficult to understand by foreigners, but eventually, you will get the gist of it. As a foreigner, I didn’t like nor understand British humour, to begin with. Then, one day, I reached enlightenment. The whole world changed for me. I finally understood what being British means, what it’s like to feel cringe (of the very British cringe!), or how you can politely tell someone they are an incompetent asshole. Suddenly, jokes made sense and I started to feel like “one of them”. In fact, I could finally buy tickets to see those British comedians and understand that British jokes are not noir, but witty as hell. Take your time to understand this, eventually, it will make sense.
There are obvious class distinctions in Britain and you will very quickly notice them. Men still dominate the higher management positions in the UK and there are some salary discrepancies between women and men. In general, the workplaces tend to be safe and trouble free. You can make friends and get a better understanding of the British culture.
Here are some important things you need to be aware of when you work in the UK.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) in the UK
You can get £88.45 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks.
You need to earn at least £112 (before tax) per week and have been off work sick for 4 or more days in a row (including non-working days).
You can’t get less than the statutory amount. You can get more if your company has a sick pay scheme. Check the UK Government website for more details as well as information about Taking sick leave.
Depending on your job, you might be able to enjoy bank holidays. Click here for an up to date UK bank holiday schedule. If you have an office job, you will probably get these days off. If you work in hospitality or retail, you might be getting your hourly rate, times and a half during bank holidays. Refer to your contract for more information.
Holiday entitlement rights in the UK
Most workers who work a 5 day week receive 28 days paid annual leave per year. Part-time workers are also entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid holiday although this amount is calculated pro rata.
Bank or public holidays do not have to be given as paid leave. An employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave.
Maternity pay and leave in the UK
Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks. It’s made up of:
- Ordinary Maternity Leave - first 26 weeks
- Additional Maternity Leave - last 26 weeks
You don’t have to take 52 weeks but you must take 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born (or 4 weeks if you work in a factory).
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get:
- 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
- £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks
SMP is paid in the same way as your wages (eg monthly or weekly). Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.
Paternity pay and leave in the UK
In the UK, you can also get paternal leave. You can get 1 or 2 weeks. The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay is £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
Any money you get is paid in the same way as your wages, eg monthly or weekly. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.
Income in the UK
We discussed how it’s like to work in the UK, but what type of income should you expect? What do you need to earn in the UK to have a decent living? And what are the current national averages? All these are valid questions, and you should absolutely do your research before moving to the UK. In fact, a lot of people crumble once they realise their salary can barely cover the rent and the bills. The UK is an expensive country.
Here are some images to help you determine the average UK salary.
The minimum wage (from 1st of April 2017):
- £3.50 for an Apprentice
- £4.05 for under 18
- £5.60 for 18-20
- £7.05 for 21-24
- £7.50 for 25 and over
If you work 40 hours a week with the minimum wage, providing you are 25 or over, you get a total of £14,976 per year. To calculate your wage correctly, you have to multiply the number of hours you work per week with the hourly wage. The resulting number should be multiplied by 52 (weeks) to get the real yearly salary. Please note that most employers will also offer bonuses and the possibility to work overtime. Check with the HR department if in doubt.
Is £15k enough to live off of in Britain? Yes and no. If you live rent free, then you most certainly can survive without an issue. If you need to pay rent, then your only hope is to share accommodation with other professionals or with your partner.
If you are a couple, both working on minimum wage, your joint income will be £30k before tax, which is relatively acceptable. You will be able to rent a one bedroom apartment, pay bills, and share the costs of food. You probably won’t afford holidays, dinners out or fun purchases. Of course, it all depends on individual lifestyles, so it’s difficult for me to predict.
I would say that in order to manage a decent living, you should expect to make £2000 before tax per person. That is £4000 before tax per couple. This, however, might not be enough in London.
To give you an idea of costs here is a breakdown.
The most expensive places to rent in the country are unsurprisingly all in London – where a two-bed Kensington & Chelsea flat will cost you a staggering £2,970 per month, whilst the cheapest rent in the UK is in Pendle, Lancashire, where on average renters of two-bed properties pay just £368 per month.
As an average, I used to pay £925 per month for our 3 bedroom house in Bristol. Our home was in the suburbs, however, a good 40 minutes away by bus from the city centre. We previously lived in the city centre, whereby for a 2 bedroom flat we paid £850 (a good 3 years ago).
You need to always remember to add council tax on top of this cost. Depending on your council and the number of rooms your home has, you will be given a fixed fee you need to pay on a monthly basis. This varies, but it is usually over £100 per house, per month. We paid close to £200 for our home. You also need to take into account the bills. Expect to pay for electricity, gas, internet and tv licence. This totals over £200 a month usually. You may also need to pay a monthly fixed cleaning and maintenance fee if you live in a flat (for the common areas to be taken care of). If you own a car, expect to pay road tax, yearly MOT, and monthly insurance for your car. These prices can be crazy expensive. Of course, take into account the prices of petrol and potentially the extra for parking spaces. Parking is incredibly expensive, especially when you try to access the city centre by car (any city centre).
You can also try the “Where can I afford to live” interactive map.
Taxes in the UK
The UK tax year runs from 6 April of one calendar year to 5 April of the subsequent year. Remember that the UK treats spouses as separate entities and taxes them as individuals, with the exception of a small allowance for the purpose of income taxes.
Before you can pay taxes in the UK, you will need a National Insurance Number. Unless you are from the EU, you might also need to apply for a visa. Please make sure you check this thoroughly.
In the UK absolutely everyone pays taxes irrespective of the residency status. You must declare all your sources of income, and remember there are some allowances in place to avoid double taxations from certain countries. Non-UK residents are only taxed on income earned in the UK.
To determine how much tax you need to pay, you can use this calculator. You can also read about your allowance tax credits. In the UK, an individual is liable for various taxes with the exception of VAT. The basic formula for taxes is to sum your personal income and benefits, subtract your personal allowance, and then pay the appropriate rate on the difference. For the 2016/17 tax year, all individuals are allowed a personal allowance of GBP 11,000. UK income tax rates are calculated based on your income. The more you earn, the more you have to pay.
If you are a self-employed individual you must register with the HMRC and filed your income taxes on a yearly basis. Most corporations are taxed at 20% rate of their net profits.
An individual is responsible for paying taxes as well as National Insurance contributions. Taxes are 20%.
You have a National Insurance number to make sure your National Insurance contributions and tax are recorded against your name only.
It’s made up of letters and numbers and never changes.
You can find your National Insurance number:
- on your payslip
- on your P60
- on letters about your tax, pension or benefits
- in the National Insurance section of your personal tax account
The rates for most people for the 2016 to 2017 tax year are:
- £155 to £827 a week (£672 to £3,583 a month) - 12%
- Over £827 a week (£3,583 a month) - 2%
The materials reviewed in this article are for informational purposes only and should not be taken as tax advice for your individual situation. You should always consult your own tax expert with your specific tax issues or questions.
Is the UK expensive?
Hell, yes! Whilst certain things are ridiculously expensive, other things are incredibly well priced. For example, I honestly find it unjustifiable to pay a lot of tax on my income, whilst also paying my local council separately, another £100+ a month. I feel it is the governments' duty to provide me with these basic services, such as the local police, firemen and bin collectors.
Rent is incredibly expensive with outskirts flats costing over £1500 a month in London. That’s pretty crazy! Prices for buying houses are also ridiculous. A 3 bedroom decent house located in the Bristol suburbs costs roughly £250k+ minimum. That’s crazy talk, especially because most British houses have bad insulation and are badly built.
Whilst most of your wage will go on rent and bills, the good news is that food prices seem to be pretty decent. If you plan your food properly and stick to healthy and nutritious items, you can spend about £60 every three days for two people. This is £600 in 30 days, £300 per person. That’s £10 per person per day (for three good, healthy meals). This is great!
You can find cleaning products, household and personal hygiene items at very reasonable prices, more so than what I found around the rest of Europe. Clothes are relatively well priced too, better than the rest of Europe in many cases. However, please note that sizes are arbitrary, the fashion is hugely different than from the rest of Europe and clothes are not well fitted. In fact, I believe the British fashion to be one of the least appealing in Europe.
Taxes are very high in the UK, with very little personal allowances. Corporation tax is high, VAT is also relatively high and income tax is...yep, you guessed it, high!
Education is incredibly expensive in the UK, students expected to pay over £10k+ per academic year.
Transportation is one of the main expensive items, buses, trains and taxis being unbearably costly. On so many levels, it turns out to be cheaper to own a car and share a journey between two people, than buying a one-way train ticket. Unfortunately, since everything is privatised, there is no way to cut down on these costs.
For national averages check numbeo for more detailed costs on items such as milk, meats and vegetables.
Study in the UK
As alluring as this may seem, know that the UK is no Hogwarts. This was a sad realisation for me, as a student, but it’s a fact better faced as early as possible. International students have always been an important presence in the UK and their numbers continue to increase. The UK universities are known to be incredibly prestigious, with Oxford and Cambridge being the more well known. Every year, you can check the best ranking Universities in the UK.
Apart from prestige, the British universities are also cheaper than many other international institutions. In comparison to the US for example, a UK academic year can be less than half the price. The catch? Non-EU students are being charged much more than EU students, and with exchange rates climbing, life in the UK can be quite expensive.
There are several loans and scholarships available for those who wish to study in the UK. Just note that most students cannot work more than 20 hours a week, which means a rather healthy trust fund is needed to begin this journey. When I embarked on my educational quest in the UK, I hugely underestimated the amount of money I needed to maintain myself. Without any help from any third parties but my own low paying job, I soon realised how tedious university can be. Besides, juggling work and a full-time course could be daunting.
Always check the visa requirements to be able to study in the UK. Remember to allocate extra finances to cover your costs. Note that since the Brexit, there is no real understanding of what is going to happen to the EU students, if there will be more allowances for them, or they will have to pay the same fees as international students.
Homes for Rent in the UK
When it comes to homes for rent in the UK, there are an incredible amount of things you need to prepare yourself for. All rental properties in the UK come with huge amounts of specifications and you need to know what you are looking for right from the start. You should take several factors into account, such as location, price, type of accommodation, council tax, requirements from landlords, tenancy contracts, safety deposit scheme. Don’t fret, we’ll discuss them one by one.
Location - As with rental properties, you need to know what homes for rent you are looking for. Where is the ideal location? Is it close to work? Close to university? Is it in a rural place, right in the city centre? Needless to say that location plays an important role in setting the price. The better the location, the higher the price. Remember to always check the neighbourhood. Ideally, when you view the house, you will pay serious attention to the type of houses around, what neighbours you might get etc.
There are a few things we learned about locations as we went along and moved houses. One of the main things was to move to an area which had resistents with similar interests to ours. In fact, thanks to Zoopla, we could check the interests, the type of professionals, the type of houses available in the area and even the newspapers people read.
This is going to be different from individual to individual and we respect that. However, for the sake of this article, I’m going to show you what is important for us and what does this really mean.
For an area to be deemed good by our standards, the socially rented houses should be way below the UK average. People should be in employment, their interests should be relatively varied, with travel more so than the average, and finally, their choice of newspapers would ideally be either the Guardian or the Independent.
In contrast, I would suggest staying as far away as possible from a place which has more socially rented houses than the UK average, the unemployment rate is clearly crazy and the interests weight towards TV and Football and the newspapers read are Daily Mirror and the Sun. That is one bad area which usually has higher levels of crimes and lower educated residents.
Type of rental properties
There are three types of rental properties in the UK:
- Furnished - with all furniture and fixtures, sometimes with pots and pans too.
- Part-furnished - with some furniture and fixtures
- Unfurnished - no furniture, but some white goods (e.g. fridge, washing machine, dishwasher etc)
Flats in the centre tends to be fully furnished, whilst houses located in the suburbs tend to be unfurnished. Upon rental, you will be given a list with all furniture, fixtures, white goods. You will be responsible for keeping everything in the same condition as when rented. It is your responsibility to monitor items.
Once you move into your new property, you are responsible for sorting out your own direct debits for bills, internet and council tax. You are also responsible for telling the Government that you moved, and make sure you get an up to date address on your driver's licence (depending on your nationality). Don't forget to register to vote!
Make sure you also change the address with your bank so you receive all bank statements.
Student or Professional rental properties
You may come across two type of properties online: Student or professional. You need to remember that student accommodations tend to be shared and grimy. They are usually badly kept and used for the sole purpose of allowing party students to cohabitate, live, drink and have fun. These houses are quite bad, but the requirements and deposit tend to be much lower. Rent is usually much cheaper.
Professional houses are for those in work, with a full-time job. These are houses kept in better condition are more expensive and come with a lot of higher deposits. These are great for working couples.
Agency vs No agency
The big dilemma when moving to the UK is to get an agency to sort out your accommodation or try to deal with the landlord directly. I did both and I would definitely suggest going through an agency to avoid all issues. It is much more expensive, of course, but having the middleman which you can sue with ease it’s much more logical. Also, agencies are obligated to look after the property more, have a serious procedure and follow certain standards. Of course, don’t expect they agency to help you much or be too nice. They are usually quite rude actually and definitely in favour of the landlord. So be strong and always stick to your guns.
Costs of rental properties
There are so many costs involved when renting a property in the UK. You usually need one month’s rent in advance, as well as 6 weeks deposit. You also need to pay an agency fee, and sometimes a guarantor fee. If you are renting an unfurnished property, then you obviously need to buy your own furniture which can cost quite a lot.
Tip: visit home charity shops which sell second-hand furniture.
You need to hire a man with a van to carry your stuff from A to B. You need to immediately call various providers to ensure they know who to bill and where you live.
Here is a breakdown. For a £925 house you are expected to pay:
- £450 for administration, agency fee and check-in fee. (non-refundable)
- £925 first month rent in advance
- £1,280 6 weeks deposit (protected and refundable*)
- £100+ check out fee (non-refundable)
*Note that your deposit has to be kept in the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. Your landlord (or agency) must provide you with a letter confirming this. Should you not receive this, you must inform the authorities immediately! This is a breach of law and they will be fined. The TDS ensures that you are dealt with properly upon the end of the tenancy agreement. Should there be any disputes in regards to the amount of deposit the landlord (agency) refunds you, you have the option to ask a mediator to help. Until all parties agree to the correct refund, the deposit stays in the TDS. This is a great way to ensure your money is protected.
When you move in, make sure you verify the check-in letter offered to you (the inventory). This should contain all fixtures, furniture and white goods. You should be able to walk around the house and mark any discrepancies. For instance, if you see scruffs on the walls, make sure to note them down and take pictures. In fact, you should take pictures on everything noted in the inventory. Even if things look good, take a picture and keep it for your own reference. As with all inventories, you have a few days to return your version of the inventory to the agency or landlord. Please note that if you don’t do so within the right time frame, everyone will assume the original inventory is correct.
If there is any damage to the house whilst you are there, make sure you let the agency know asap so they can start fixing the issue asap. In our case, the wind blew one of the wooden fences from our back garden. We emailed the agency immediately, so they are aware of the situation. This is a great way to ensure you are not held responsible for any damage (within reason and given it was not your fault, of course).
Requirements for homes to rent in the UK
Apart from being able to pay all the fees upright, you might need proof of your income. This can mean payslips, P45s or P60s. You can show your bank account statement and usually, you might need a letter from your employer. If you just start your new employment, you will very likely have to show a letter or your contract whereby it clearly shows your annual income. To rent a house of around £925 you might need to earn close to £30k (this can be combined if you share the rent with your partner or friend). Note that if you are self-employed, you need to prove your income which consists of your wages as well as dividends. You might also need a letter from your accountant to further iterate your income. You also need references from your previous landlords or agencies. If you lived abroad, you might still need some personal or/and professional statements to show you are of good character.
Things to check in rental properties
When you look to get a rental property, there are a few things I strongly recommend that you check. Make sure you always verify the official energy efficiency for the property. The agent showing you around the house should have that information to hand. Make sure the energy efficiency is B+. You will usually get this with newbuilt houses only. We lived in properties with energy efficiency B which was great and C which was awful. The C house was always cold, especially during the winter. So much so, that we usually left the heating on at all times, drank lots of hot tea and work in sweaters. As you may appreciate, this is not very comfortable in your own home. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the bigger the house, the harder to heat up and the quicker it cools down.
Another important factor is for your home to have double glazing. This will be your next best friend during the cold, rainy weather in Britain. Who wants mouldy wooden window frames anyway?
Make sure your house has gas central heating. I lived in a flat with electric radiators and not only they barely heated up the house, but they cost a lot of money to run! It’s probably the worst invented thing in a British house. No matter how much you love the house, keep clear of that horrible electric radiator. It will ruin you!
Ensure everything is fully functional. I’m not joking, just walk around, turn the heating on, make sure the boiler if functional, check the taps, and most importantly: verify there is enough water pressure. Nothing more annoying than switching the shower on for the first time and realising it will take a week to rinse off your shampoo.
Walk around the house and open wardrobes. As invasive as that may seem, sniff around for mould. British houses are notorious for moulding up and you need to make sure you are not moving into one of these horrible mouldy places. Check the window frames for mould and the shower and bath. Look very careful on the ceiling and around the corners to ensure there are no signs of leakage. If you see patches of paint, make sure you double check to see what was the cause for that. If something leaked, it usually means the wooden boards from the structures have moulded and need replacing. This costs so much money, most landlords prefer selling the house than fixing it. You don’t want to live in a horrible house like that!
And finally, this is down to preference but I like to mention it anyway: the double tap aka the most horrendous British invention. I do not understand the point of this. The Brits love their separate hot and cold water tap. Imagine the situation when you need to wash your face and you can’t get warm water...you get either cold or hot. You need to fill up your sink to ensure you get the right temperature, or really quickly switch between the two of them. Awful, awful! I always avoided these where possible!
Rental property terminology
Number of bedrooms - unlike many other European countries, the number of bedrooms doesn’t include the living room/lounge. It simply states the number of actual bedrooms. Living room and kitchen are separate.
Bath - the room which contains a bath tub
En-suite - The master bedroom has its own bathroom
Shower over bath - Bathtub which contains a shower
Boiler Room - Small storage room which has the boiler in it
Toilet - Usually a very small room which contains only a toilet and a small sink.
Cloakroom - Storage room for coats
Conservatory - The best British invention aka a glass room where you can sip your tea in the afternoon. The official definition: a room with a glass roof and walls, attached to a house on one side and used as a greenhouse or a sun parlour.
No DSS - Means the landlord or agency won’t accept someone on housing benefits
Healthcare in the UK
The National Healthcare Service (NHS) provides healthcare to all permanent residents of the United Kingdom. It is free at this point to use for the patient, although there are charges associated with eye tests, dental care, prescriptions and aspects of personal care.
The NHS is funded by individual National Insurance contributions which are automatically deducted from the wage. To see how much you contribute, refer to your payslip or ask the HR department if in doubt.
The healthcare system was introduced in the 1948 and has been successfully running since. It offers free and unbiased healthcare to all permanent residence of the UK. Once you have an NI card, a job and a UK address, you can register with a local GP (general practitioner) to have access to free medical care. It is important to note that you get a GP based on your location within a small radius of your address. You usually have several options around you, so make sure to check the reviews online before you decided which one to register to.
When you are in need of medical assistance, call the reception and book an appointment. Based on your issue, you might be able to get an emergency appointment with your local practitioner. Appointments with the GP are usually 10 minutes long. Once they assess you, they either refer you to a specialist or give you a prescription.
The waiting time for an appointment tends to vary but it’s a week on average, at least from my personal experience. Once you get referred to a specialist, the waiting time can be 6 weeks or even more, it depends on your circumstances and the urgency of your case.
For those in need of immediate assistance, you can access a walk-in centre. A walk-in centre only deals with minor illnesses and injuries. They are usually managed by a nurse and available to everyone. You don’t need an appointment, although the waiting time can range from a few minutes to a few hours.
There are also emergency services called A&E services. These deal with genuine life-threatening emergencies. Less severe injuries can be treated in urgent care centres or minute injuries units. Please remember that A&E services are not an alternative to your GP appointment. If you have been in an accident, call 999 which is the emergency number in the UK.
If your GP practice is closed, call 111 which will best direct you to the local service to treat your injury. 111 is the NHS non-emergency number. It’s fast, easy and completely free. A trained advisor will talk to you and make sure they fully understand your issue before they can better recommend a suitable medicare care for you. You should use the NHS 111 service if you urgently need medical help or advice but it's not a life-threatening situation.
There are also Sexual Health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics which can offer a range of information, advice, and services in regards to sexual health.
These can be from testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, through free condoms or other methods of contraception to vaccination, advice on abortion and help for people who have been sexually assaulted. These clinics operate appointment based but have walk-in services as well. Make sure to check the clinic closest to you, and check how to get an appointment or which day/time you can go in for the walking services. Anybody can go to a sexual health clinic, no matter what their age. Some clinics hold sessions for specific groups of people, including young people, gay men and lesbians.
Prescriptions cost in the UK
The current prescription charge is £8.40 per item (£16.80 per pair of elastic hosiery).
A three monthly PPC is £29.10 and could save you money if you need more than three prescribed items in three months.
A 12-month certificate is £104.00 and could save you money if you need more than 12 prescribed items in a year.
You may be entitled to free prescriptions. You can check the NHS website to see if this applies to you. Note that contraceptives are supplied free of charge, always.
You need to check if the dentistry you are interested in currently takes in new patients. The waiting time can be as long as 6 months or more for appointments. The best course of action is to go to a private dentist, although note they are very expensive, and from my experience, not very good. In fact, after visiting the dentist in the UK (private) and paying them hundreds of pounds, I ended up having serious problems. So much so, that I had to go to another European country, pay several hundred pounds to get my problem fixed. Nevertheless, it’s good to know your options. If you need a reliable dentist abroad, get in touch and I can recommend you one in Europe.
Friendships and family in the UK
At first glance, the British like to keep themselves to themselves, but the moment you enter the magical gates of a pub, everything changes. One pint is all it takes for your work colleagues to start opening up, chattering about this and that. The British are actually quite friendly and curious by nature. Don’t be offended if everyone asks you where you are from or make you say something in your own language. Most of them mean no harm, they just want to know and use this as an icebreaker. In fact, I don't even know how many times they liked to guess that I am Swedish, French or Polish (I’m neither, FYI).
To me, the British seem quite awkward, to begin with, but once you find common ground they are very easy to talk to. I love the British wits and find it very easy to make friends in Britain. I love their silly jokes and I learned to like the sarcasm, so much so, that I use it every day too.
If there is one thing I learned, is that the British love to party. The pub culture is real and as vibrant as ever. This is one thing I didn’t like about Britain, but that’s because I’m more of a cafe society girl. Students like to go out a lot. In fact, I simply don’t understand how come their liver can take it. They do 3 years of continuous partying, which involves heavy drinking, house parties and going on on a regular basis.
The drug culture is also widely spread in the UK. Most people are open about smoking weed and usually, Friday night is reserved for more serious drugs such as cocaine, MDMA or speed to keep the party going. There is such a thing called the “Monday blues” which has a double meaning. It means going back to work, but also the actual post drug comes down.
As people age, they replace the clubbing with the pub. Pubs are usually reserved for the working professionals or old individuals who like to tell a story. Pubs are fun and pub crawls are a thing in Britain. Note that drinks are expensive in the UK and if you are not careful you can find yourself in a situation whereby you work to afford to drink. Keep it cool!
If you are a social creature, you will find it easy to make friends in Britain, especially when you are out with others. Most people will be happy to talk to you. Once you make it into a group, you will be invited to new social events all the time. There is always something going on.
If you wish to meet new people, you can also sign up for citysocializer and make new friends this way.
Hidden costs for expats
Council Tax - always check your council tax band before you get a flat. Usually, the agent will be able to tell you how much you should expect to pay. As discussed this is on top of your rent and utilities.
Tax and NI - The salary advertised is always gross. Deductions apply and you have to take the tax and NI contributions out of your gross salary to calculate how much money you actually make.
Running a car - The national average for car insurance is about £500 a year. Add road tax to this (depending on your car can be from 0 to £515 a year), maintenance, yearly MOT cost (above £100) and fuel.
Public transport - Public transport in the UK is very expensive. Although everyone seems to hate the British trains, I think the Brits have it quite well. Some local trains tend to be late, yes, but the cross-country trains are usually spotless, fast and on time. Those are, of course, more expensive, but you get what you pay for. There are some local trains which indeed are a bit grim and full of questionable individuals, but most of the time you can manage. The best course of action is to always reserve a seat if you travel between cities, but note that this usually costs more.
Banking in the UK
In order to open a bank account, you will need an address and some legitimate ID. Usually, your passport will do the trick. Make sure you bring your tenancy agreement as proof of address. Make sure you go for a bank account which gives you a free account with a standard debit card. Ask for a contactless card. This will allow you to pay for things up to £30 contactless.
There is no way for me to tell you what bank is best for your needs. It’s usually easier to open an account with one of the UK’s largest banks - Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC or RBS/NatWest.
I have my account with Lloyds, but this is because when I just arrived in the UK, I saw their logo and I loved it. No joke, as silly as this sounds. I’ve been with them for the past 10 years and had no issues. If you want to open a business account, make sure you check which bank offers you the lowest monthly costs and the best customer service. Ideally, you will have 24/7 access to the help line. I know I needed this whilst I was in Japan and the time differences were tricky. Also, make sure you have good rates for international transactions.
Ideally, you will check a financial website to compare all current accounts and make sure you are aware of your benefits.
If you wish to get a credit card, you might find it tricky as you don’t have any credit history in the country. However, you can always check dedicated websites to see how to get the best credit card for your needs. Please make sure you keep up with your payments or only get a card because you need the points/benefits. If you are late with your payments, you will be greatly penalised and your credit rating will be affected. This means that you might not be able to apply for mortgages, loans or even phone contracts. If you don’t pay your bills or credit card, eventually your debt will be passed onto a debt collector agency. You can also be prosecuted in the UK courts and have some your items or salary seized, depending on the company / governments you owe money to.
No matter where you come from, moving to the UK will have an impact on you. In my case, it was the drinking culture, the crazy way party women dress and the sheer amount of rain which drove me mad. In contrast, I loved how Britain is so walking friendly as it offers so many trails all around the country. There are several cities in the UK which are incredibly bike friendly, which makes it easier for residents to commute without the need for a car or public transport. There are road rules to protect cyclists but there are unfortunately quite a few accidents as well. Cyclists are advice to wear helmets and protecting gear, make sure they have visibility jackets and working lights at all times. I cycled for 3 years, mostly trouble free.
It is common to talk to your neighbours and look after each other’s homes when one is on holiday. This is usually a thing in the richer suburbs. It is common for the post man to ask you to take in a parcel for your next door neighbour. They will come and collect it later on. People do this all the time.
It is also common to post cards before Xmas for your neighbours to wish them happy holidays. They will sometimes do the same. Just push your cards through the letter box.
Most things can be done online in the UK. Applications, shopping, groceries, even Royal Mail purchases, which makes things easy and awesome.
For international calls download Ringo, a nice little app which enables you to call over wifi.
For internet, make sure you check your area you want to move to in order to ensure you have coverage! This is incredibly important in rural places. If you can, and have coverage, go for Virgin Media. That’s the best internet in the country.
You will eventually understand which shop you prefer the most. We bought things from a combination of stores: mainly Sainsbury's and Lidl. We didn’t like Aldi, and we kept away from Asda. Tesco is an ok option too. Marks and Spencer will have some of the best products, but it is expensive. We bought our fruit and veg from them, as well as cheese. I used to like Morrisons, but since they sold me out of date cheese at the dairy counter, I avoided them like the plague.
For petrol. I always fueled at either Morrisons or Asda, because of the cheapest prices.
If I could recommend one last thing, would be moving to Scotland, particularly Edinburgh. Edinburgh was by far my favourite city in the UK. For convenience, most prefer moving to England, especially in major cities such as London, Manchester or Birmingham. Bristol is a fantastic option, as well as Manchester, but I lived in both, hence I am biased. I particularly like Oxford and Cambridge. Of course, each city has its own perks, so it’s up to you to figure out what you want.
Wales is cheap and great, with beautiful landscapes. I wanted to move to Wales but because I used London as the main travel hub, moving even further from the capital made no sense. I also had issues finding high-speed internet connection is certain areas of interest. Wales is fantastic and I strongly recommended it for weekends away. Please make time to visit Snowdonia, it’s pretty awesome.
Perhaps a premature discussion, but if moving to the UK means settling forever, then you might want to consider certain things. Obtaining British citizenship is absolutely not easy and it requires a sheer amount of paperwork. Because of Brexit, it is not clear how will the British citizenship be dealt with when it comes to EU citizens.
I am not an immigration lawyer, but I can offer some advice which I wished I would have received when I first arrived at the country.
If you dream of getting a British citizenship, you have to ensure that you keep each and every single piece of documentation you get.
Keep all your bank statements safe!
Ensure you keep ALL p45s (payslips) and ALL p60s.
Keep proof of all your addresses! Ideally, you will keep a copy of all tenancy agreements as well as a copy of all your council tax bills.
Keep a copy of all your papers and IDs. If your passport expires, ask your government to return back your old passport and keep it safe.
Keep a spreadsheet with all dated you travel to and from the UK. Keep a copy of your plane tickets.
I needed all of the above when I applied for permanent residency and British citizenship. I didn't have all of the above and it created a lot of issues for me to dig into my past and find all the paperwork.
Are you ready to move to the UK? Did you find the information useful? Is there anything you think I should add to the list? Please tell me all about it in the comments section below!