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Moving to the UK

Though far from the dominant global power it was during the height of the British empire, the UK is still a major economic player in the Western Hemisphere and is home to London, by far the largest city in the EU and one of the top three financial centres in the world.

United Kingdom

Its largely service oriented economy provides employment prospects at both ends of the education spectrum which results in net inward migration of around 150,000 people per annum.

But the UK, lying at the northwestern extremity of Europe, has always been a nation of immigrants. In the historic era the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Normans all conquered and then settled the island nation. In modern times mass immigration from the former British colonies of the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia have all added to the cultural mix and helped create a country that is far more tolerant than its tabloid press would have you believe.

That same diverse population has been the source of some of the world’s finest cultural and artistic exports. To this day the UK is home to some of the world’s best theatre, most famous popular music acts and thriving creative industries.

Moving to the UK: London

Source: Flickr | Simon Hadleigh-Sparks

The UK also has universal publicly funded healthcare, a very good education system, excellent protections for both workers and consumers and a mild climate.

But it’s not all tea and crumpets. The cost of living in the UK is among the highest in the world, and the increasingly tough immigration laws are also making it harder and more expensive for anyone from outside the European Economic Area to move there.

Quick British geography lesson:
Political term Geography
United Kingdom Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales
Great Britain England, Scotland, and Wales
Ireland Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Visas and becoming a citizen

The UK borders are freely open to anyone holding a full British passport, but that passport also allows you free, unrestricted access to all of the countries of the European Union (EU), which has developed a common open borders policy for all of its citizens.

A number of citizens from certain countries can enter the UK on the Visa-waiver program, which allows for the quick and simple completion of a form at the point of entry. Various levels of UK visas allow for expats to enter the UK for business reasons, marriage, or for the purpose of taking up a job offer.

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The easiest way to become a British Citizen is to become ‘naturalised’ which effectively makes you one of the natives. There are certain rules on this, which include being over 18 years of age and of good character, and have what is termed ‘knowledge of English’ which is generally a good formal English qualification.

You can apply for Naturalisation after five years of living in the UK, or by having an English spouse who you live with. The Government's Home Office as a full list of criteria that needs to be reached for a British Passport or the various levels of visa to be granted.

Healthcare

The National Health Service (NHS) is an overseeing body that controls hospitals, doctors, and the supply of drugs in the UK. The NHS, like much of the UK’s infrastructure is paid for through a combination of taxes and other payments levied at the working population. The tenet is that if you effectively lose out if you don’t need healthcare, but if you do require medical attention, it is free and open to use.

Moving to the UK

Job market

The UK has a huge education industry ranging from primary education right up to university level. In addition, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a big, international business, so if your level of English is good, you have the option of doing that.

The southern coast has a large proportion of military infrastructure, while the midlands of England - near Birmingham - is the domain of medium to heavy industry.

The north of the country, such as the cities Glasgow, Newcastle, and Belfast, is still renowned for shipbuilding and a certain amount of coal mining, and the northeast coast of Scotland is heavily involved in oil and gas exploration and extraction.

Moving to the UK

Work in the financial services or high-tech industries is plentiful, especially around Manchester and London. Military contractors offer large amounts of work and heavy industry including car manufacture is still a growing business.

The UK benefits from being seen as America’s doorway into Europe and the special relationship between the two countries sees a lot of American companies operating premises and business units in the UK.

Salaries in specialist industries can reach into six figures, and the country operates a minimum wage policy, so even the lowest level jobs attract a living wage.

Essential info for the United Kingdom:

Official language: English, though Welsh and Celtic may be spoken regionally
Capital city: London
Currency: British Pound (GBP) £
Timezone: UTC+ 00:00
International dialling code: +44
Emergency numbers: 999, or 111 for non-emergency
Population: 65,000,000
Electricity: 220 volts, 3 pin
Internet TLD: .co.uk, .com
Drives on the: Left
Tipping: No convention on tipping, and no social expectation to tip, apart from taxis. Some restaurants include a service charge in the bill.
Unusual fact:: If London were a country, it would be the 8th largest in Europe.

Property information

If you aim to live in the UK, you will need somewhere to live and, unless you have to opportunity to receive a house as part of an employment package, you will have to either purchase a home or rent one.

No one would judge you for renting as you first arrived, simply so that you could spend some time trying to figure out where you want to live in a country as diverse as the UK. Obviously, unless you work from home or take your office with you, living in a fair locale to where you work is key. Although, a large number of workers commute for up to two hours per day (each way, that is).

Moving to the UK

In fairness, much of this is borne out of necessity; many people work within large cities, but only a much smaller amount can actually afford property in those areas, so it becomes easier to commute. However that isn’t always the case and since it only takes a half-hour train journey from central London or Manchester to get to lush countryside, many people enjoy the tranquillity of the country while earning the higher than average salaries that city workers tend to get. Take a look at our guide to family friendly cities that aren't London to see what other choices you have.

Price is almost always the issue with UK property, and there is a huge split between the north of the country (cheaper than London) and the south of the country (more expensive).

Cost of Moving

The initial cost of moving to the UK may include the following items (based on a family of four):

From To Cost
New York London £1,717 GBP
Los Angeles Brighton £2,185 GBP
Hong Kong Manchester £3,121 GBP
Perth Belfast £3,902 GBP
Sao Paulo London £4,292 GBP
Cape Town Edinburgh £4,916 GBP

Living costs

Once in the UK, rent will be your biggest monthly outgoing. To house a family of four, you will need at least a three-bedroom house or apartment. The cost for that will vary depending upon where you are in the country and may vary between $500 in the north, and $1,860 in the south.

Food

Food is pretty cheap in the UK as much of it is homegrown, though there are plenty of imports. Supermarkets now sell everything from essentials to more exotic foods. English food used to be a weird joke, mostly spurred on by a fixation with fish and chips, but over the last couple of decades, it has become both exciting and tasty, spanning a broad range of different cultural aspects. Eating out can be either fast food and cheap, or exclusive and expensive, though there is plenty in between.

Transport

Cities have excellent public transport, ranging from subway, trams, buses, taxis and trains. In some larger city centres, cars are actively discouraged to help reduce pollution and you have to pay to take them in, so using public transport becomes essential. You can buy a new car for anything from around $7,450 for something small to $37,240 for something more special.

Schools and education

The UK operates a system of state education that is open to all children, and the country has a rich tradition of private education. While many Britons like to decry the system, the state (public) system of education is pretty effective and children receive a comprehensive education from the ages of five through to age 16, with the possibility of staying on into what is termed as ‘sixth form’, which is a precursor to going on to university.

Moving to the UK: Oxford

Source: Flickr | Dimitry B.

You may hear the term ‘college’ extensively and in the UK it means just that: a further education establishment that sits midway between high school (known as secondary schools) and university. Take a look at our guide to the UK education system for more information on the differences between the UK and your home country.

Driving in the UK

If you visit the country before your move – and it’s strongly advised that you should – one of the first things you will notice is that cars are different; the steering wheel is fixed to the passenger side and worse still, the British drive on the other side. It’s a condition based on being in the right place when drawing a sword with the right hand while approaching another horse rider on a road, which doesn’t really happen anymore.

To drive in the UK you need:

  • To be at least 18 years of age.

  • Hold a valid driver’s license.

  • Have valid insurance.

  • Have a car that is deemed roadworthy via Ministry of Transport (MoT) test.

Road signs and markings are very well set out in the UK, and the motorway (freeways) system is extensive and in good condition. The national speed limit is 70 mph and less on minor roads.

Move to the UK: Leicester

Source: Flickr | Holly Victoria Norval

Expat communities in the UK

The best part about the UK once controlling most of the world is that there are many people from Commonwealth countries and other areas of the world that call the UK home. Mainly online, you will find plenty of sites that help expats meet and mingle so you will never be alone. These sites like meetup.com are great for finding out information and setting up social events.

Ranking against the world

The UK still has an economy that flies in the face of other notable states and is actually growing healthily, which many see as a desirable location. It’s not true that you have to like royalty, tea, and griping about rain to get in here, but they may help.

You will end up paying a lot of money for property compared to some other countries, but depending upon your field of expertise, you can secure some pretty impressive salaries to pay for it. Public transport is pretty good, though trains aren’t at a standard of some of the UK’s European partners, but getting around by car – you know, the ones that drive on the wrong side of the road – is easy thanks to a superb network of roads and motorways, which is the UK version of a freeway.

While the UK isn’t as carefree as the Scandinavian countries that top the happiness charts, the UK ranked 21st on the World Happiness Report for 2015 out of 158 countries surveyed. If you are looking for a quiet and pleasant land to set your roots down in, the UK is a likely suspect!

Cities in United Kingdom