Moving to the United Kingdom: our guide for expats

This guide contains key information every expat should know about moving to the United Kingdom.

Xe Consumer

October 30, 2020 8 min read

Man in London

The United Kingdom is one of the world's top economies and has a lot to offer those seeking great employment opportunities and a better standard of living. The country is known for its diverse, tolerant culture, and its residents make most newcomers feel welcome, even though it can be hard to break through the popular "British reserve."

The island nation boasts breathtaking landscapes and a rich history and offers plenty of enticing choices—whether you're looking for rural peace or urban excitement. It has been a popular destination for expats for many years and its capital, London, offers a host of opportunities to expats looking for work.

This guide covers everything you need to know about moving to the UK: from free health care to transportation. It also contains up-to-date information on how to get a visa. Starting a new life in some remote part of the world can be exciting, but it can also be daunting. This guide will make the move easier.

Quick & interesting facts about the United Kingdom

  • The top 5 expat destinations in the UK are London, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, and Reading.

  • Unlike other European nations, the UK does not use the Euro. The island nation uses the British Pound because its government determined that the Euro doesn't meet 5 critical requirements that are necessary to using it.

  • London is the most expensive city to live in. On average, a two-bedroom apartment in central London costs £2,500 per month. In other towns, the monthly rent is around £1,400 per month.

  • The average yearly wage for full-time employees is approximately £30,000.

  • In order to own a television, you need to pay a tax known as the television license fee.

  • The UK’s National Health Service provides free health care to all residents. However, the system is highly criticized for its long wait lists. Consider private health care if you can afford it.

  • People in the UK drive on the left, unlike in the USA and mainland Europe. EU nationals can drive any vehicle shown on their driving license. If you have a valid driving license from your country of origin, you can drive in the UK for at least 12 months without a UK driving license.

  • Many small merchants add a checkout fee for card payments under £10. Debit card payments use a “Chip & PIN” system for added security.

  • Heathrow is the UK's busiest airport and hosts 72.3 million passengers every year. 30% of all air passengers in Britain pass through the airport.

  • If you drive your car in some parts of London, you may incur the congestion charge. The fee is charged on most vehicles driven within the congestion charge zone between 7 a.m and 10 p.m.

  • If you're thinking of buying property once you move to the UK, it's important to be aware of the practice of gazumping--which is very common. It’s when a home seller accepts an offer from one homebuyer but backs out of the deal once he gets a higher offer.

  • The UK is filled with golden sandy beaches. England alone has more than 60 blue flag beaches. The weather isn’t always perfect, but on sunny days, you can enjoy a great day out. Every place in England is no further than 75 miles from the sea.

  • London’s transportation system is one of the largest in the world. The London Underground boasts over 270 functioning stations with 400 escalators. 40 of the stations are unused.

  • The British love their tea. They consume over 165 million cups of tea every day--20 times more than what Americans drink.

  • The most popular food is chips followed by fish and chips.

  • England may be known for its football, rugby, and cricket, but you’ll also find weird sports here. Once a year, there’s a cheese rolling competition where people chase a 9lb block of cheese down a hill.

  • If you receive good service at a restaurant, leave a tip of 10% of the total bill. But it’s worth mentioning that Britain’s minimum wage is higher than in the USA, so waiters don’t rely heavily on tips. You don’t have to tip at pubs or for counter food.

A step-by-step guide to moving to the UK

1. Get a visa

The UK officially left the European Union (EU) on January 31st, 2020, in a move known as “Brexit”. Until December 31, 2020, the UK will be in a “transition” period, which will keep the UK bound to EU rules and mean that there won’t be many noticeable changes for the public or businesses.

So what does that mean? Until then, EU/EFTA nationals don’t need a visa to enter the country. They can also live in the country if they are employed, self-employed, or looking for a job. 

If you're a citizen of an EU country, Switzerland, or an EEA member country, visa costs and requirements may be hard to navigate because the UK is in the post-Brexit transition period. But if your country of origin isn't affected by Brexit, all the guidelines will remain the same. 

Visit the UK government's website to find out whether you need a visa and how much you’ll have to pay. The amount you pay will depend on several factors, like the type of visa and whether you make the application inside or outside the country.

2. Move your belongings

Moving your belongings to the UK involves a lot more than putting them in a shipping container and sending them. If you're relocating with your family or simply want to move your things without stress, you can hire a relocation specialist to help you every step of the way. They can help you to keep costs down and ensure you get your belongings on time.

Before moving your possessions, find out UK customs regulations, allowances, and restricted & prohibited items. If you're relocating from an EU country, you won't pay tax or custom duty on goods. But if you're relocating from a non-EU country, you may have to pay custom duty and tax. 

You might be able to claim relief on duty and tax in certain conditions. If you're relocating permanently, you have to fill out form ToR01 as soon as your items arrive in the UK. If you're only moving temporarily, you're required to fill out form C88. Customs officials will use the information you provide in the form to decide whether you owe any tax and duty, or you’re eligible for relief.

3. Manage your finances

It's important to sort out your finances before moving to the United Kingdom so you can support yourself and your family once you get there. The last thing you want is to be stranded because your money wasn't transferred on time. Research banking options and open a bank account before you arrive. This will make things much easier and cheaper once you arrive.

If you’re moving to the country permanently and you have a pension, find out whether it can be transferred. It's possible to transfer an overseas pension scheme to a UK pension provider. However, some UK pension schemes only accept transfers from Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (ROPS).

4. Open an account at one of the top banks in the UK

The top 5 banks in the UK are:

  1. HSBC

  2. Barclays

  3. NatWest Group

  4. Lloyds Banking Group

  5. Standard Chartered.

Other popular banks include Santander, Lloyds TSB, Royal Bank of Scotland, Co-operative Bank, and Halifax.

Barclays has an account specifically designed for those who are new to the UK, the “New to the UK” account. Other good UK bank accounts for expats include the HSBC Basic Account, the Halifax Current Account, and the First Direct 1st Account.

The best banks in the UK by service quality are First Direct, Metro Bank, Nationwide, and Coventry BS.

5. Sort out health insurance

In the United Kingdom, residents and non-residents can access health care through the public or private sector. The publicly-funded health care system, National Health Service (NHS), offers primary health care to all UK residents and EU/EFTA nationals who hold a European health insurance card. 

However, due to the long waiting lists, many expats prefer to take out health insurance. Before you move to the UK, ensure you have the right health cover. Your family will be protected from day one and you’ll be able to access medical care quickly. You can research health insurance options ahead of time to avoid a last minute rush.

How to find a job in the UK

The Office for National Statistics reported that the UK’s unemployment rate was 3.9% in May 2020—the lowest in 40 years. So, now is as good a time as any to apply for a job.

If your country is a member state of the European Union or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), you can look for a job on the EURES website. The job portal is maintained by the European Commission and supports free movement within the European Economic Area (EEA). However, as of 1st January 2021, the UK will cease to be a part of the EEA, so the EURES service will no longer be accessible.

You can also look for a job on Find a job, the government-run website for jobs throughout the UK. It lists thousands of full-time and part-time jobs. CV Library, the UK’s leading independent job board, allows you to upload your CV and manage applications. Other popular job portals include Adecco, Adzuna, and Careerbuilder.

Now that you’re armed with all the important information, we hope your move to the UK will be smoother. To help with your move, you can use Xe to easily manage your finances. Our website and money transfer app make it easy for you to transfer money to your UK bank account or to send money back home. Try it today.