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Living and working in the UK as an Australian

The UK sure packs a punch for such a small island. This tiny country is a major player on the world stage, bringing us everything from Shakespeare to the Beatles. A top choice for Australians looking to broaden their horizons by working abroad, the UK also boasts fantastic state-funded health care, excellent schools and Universities, and a steady job market.

They might be at opposite ends of the Earth, but Australia and the UK have always been inextricably linked. So it’s no surprise that the UK is currently home to more than 120,000 Australians. Traditionally, the UK was a popular choice for young Aussies wanting to base themselves in the gateway to Europe while working in Britain’s plentiful bars and pubs. It is now becoming more popular with skilled workers and their families, who want to take advantage of the mild climate, rich cultural opportunities and stunning natural landscape this historic island has to offer.

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The UK is well-suited to the active Australian lifestyle. The Brits love their sport - from rugby and soccer to more adventurous activities like mountain biking and sailing. The British countryside is an easily accessible playground, whatever the weather. Explore the rugged mountains of the Scottish Highlands, feel right at home in the laid-back surfer beaches of Cornwall or enjoy long Sunday bike rides through the rolling Yorkshire Dales.   

Whether you fancy working in London, the UK’s buzzing multicultural capital, or you love the idea of discovering Britain’s scenic rural side, Australians receive a warm welcome and generally find the shared language, sense of humour and culture makes it easy to settle in. The weather on the other hand? That can take some getting used to!   

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How to get a working visa in the UK

Depending on your age and situation, there are a range of UK visas that will allow you to work in the UK. Full UK immigration details and application forms can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Ancestry Visas

Australian citizens with a British grandparent born in the UK may be able to apply for an Ancestry visa. This allows you to live and work in the UK for up to 5 years, after which you can either apply for a visa extension or the right to permanent residence.

To be granted this type of UK visa, you must be able to prove your ancestry and demonstrate that you are able to support yourself (and any dependants you may have) without needing help from public funds. You must be able and planning to work in the UK.

You will need to apply for your visa before you fly to the UK. You can apply up to 3 months before you travel and should expect to hear a decision within around 3 weeks. Visas currently cost A$650 (or £405 GBP). You will also have to pay a health surcharge of A$320 (or £200) for each year of your visa when you apply. So, for example, a five-year visa would incur a health surcharge of A$1,600. This fee allows you to access free healthcare through the National Health Service.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme

Tier 5 Youth Mobility visas are aimed at 18-30 year olds who want to live and work in the UK. You must be a citizen of certain approved countries – of which Australia is one. Visas are granted for up to two years and will only be granted once in your lifetime. You cannot bring dependants with you and you must have A$3,040 (or £1,890) in savings before you travel.

You can apply for a Tier 5 visa up to 6 months before you plan to travel. Fees are currently A$370 (or £230). You will also have to pay a health surcharge of A$240 (or £150) per visa year as part of your application. Whilst in the UK with a Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa, you will be allowed to study, work or be self-employed – but you will be unable to claim public funds.

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Tier 2 Working Visas

A Tier 2 (General) working visa may be granted if you have been offered a skilled job within the UK. Your UK employer must provide you with your certificate of sponsorship reference number and an ‘appropriate’ salary offer (usually a minimum of A$40,200 per year). You must also demonstrate you have savings of at least A$1,520 before you apply.

You can apply to bring dependants with you on a Tier 2 visa. You will need to show you have adequate savings to support them.

Tier 2 UK working visa fees vary. If you are applying for your Tier 2 visa before you travel to the UK, your application will cost A$925 for up to three years and A$1,859 for more than three years. Fees are reduced if you have been offered a job in a ‘shortage occupation’, including engineers working in the oil and gas industry, nurses, secondary maths and science teachers or senior software developers. Fees are currently A$700 for up to three years and A$1,400 for more than three years. It is also possible to apply for a Tier 2 visa from within the UK if you are switching from certain categories of UK visas.

Again, you will need to pay a health surcharge. For Tier 2 visas, the fee is A$320 (or £200) for each year of your visa and must be paid upfront when you apply. So a three-year visa application would include a surcharge of A$960 per person.

Best cities to find a job in the UK

London

The most popular destination for Aussie expats is lively London. The UK’s commercial and financial hub is a hive of job opportunities, hosting European headquarters of around 40% of the world’s top companies. Jobs in London cater to all occupations, from healthcare to the creative arts. Cost of living in London is high, even though many salaries receive a location-specific London boost. West and South West London have the largest Australian populations, with recent years also seeing a growing number of expats moving further into towards the city centre to trendy Shoreditch and Hackney.

Edinburgh

The Scottish capital is a surprisingly easy 4.5-hour train ride from London. This cosmopolitan cultural hotspot hosts a jam-packed yearly programme of festivals and events, including the infamous Fringe Festival in August, which sees millions of visitors and performers descend on the city. Edinburgh may be smaller in size than London – it’s easy to walk everywhere - but has an international feel that is popular with many expats. The tech industry is booming in Edinburgh and the employment market in general is healthy.

Manchester

The UK’s second city, Manchester, has an industrial history typical of the Northern cities. With easy access to the beautiful countryside of the Peak District and the Lakes, Manchester has a fun-loving and relaxed atmosphere with plenty of great nightlife. The financial services industry is buoyant in Manchester, with many companies setting up bases in the ‘Northern powerhouse’. The BBC is based in nearby Salford, with excellent job prospects in TV, radio and journalism.

Work/life balance

Work/life balance in the UK varies between employers. Traditionally, hard work and long hours were common but recently there has been a move towards striking a better work/life balance.

Standard office hours are 9am-5pm, with a compulsory 30-minute lunch break. Many occupations work shifts and longer hours. Some companies are adopting flexible working hours, which are great if you need to work around childcare.

The working week in the UK is technically limited to 48 hours per week, although it is possible to opt out of this limit. This should only be done with your written consent – but does allow you to earn more money if you are happy to work longer hours.

Most workers are legally entitled to 28 days’ paid holiday per year. This may or may not include around eight annual bank holidays (or public holidays).

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Brexit

In the recent ‘Brexit’ referendum, UK residents voted to leave the European Union. The details and implications of Britain’s exit from the EU are as yet unknown. It is reasonable to expect that the UK economy may suffer and that there may be immigration and visa changes, although these are most likely to affect nationals from EU countries. It may become harder to travel around the rest of the EU from the UK.

If you want to move to a country that that shares much of Australia’s values and spirit, the UK is fantastic choice. While these similarities are comforting, it is the differences that make this island such a fascinating place to explore. Discover breath-taking natural beauty, a vibrant arts and cultural scene, hundreds of historic castles and museums - and the delights of Europe right on your doorstep.