Home Guides Living and Working in the UK as an Expat

Living and Working in the UK as an Expat

Whether you’re looking to move to the UK for work, to study, for a partner, or just to experience a new chapter in your life, there’s no doubt that this country is steeped in charm, culture, and history. With an estimated 14% of the population made up of people born outside the UK, there are plenty of multicultural communities and opportunities to make this diverse country your home. This guide provides an overview of living in the UK as an expat, as well as the best way to send money back home from the UK.

16th December 2020
Updated: 03/06/2021
Read time: 13 minutes

Moving to the UK from abroad is a major decision with a number of factors to take into account. The UK can be an expensive place to live, but that really depends on where you are moving to. London may have the most job opportunities, but the UK is also home to a number of diverse, exciting cities with easy access to the countryside beyond – from the business hub’s of Edinburgh and Manchester to the bustling cities of Brighton and Cardiff, you certainly aren’t just limited to the capital. 

Relocating is a life changing decision, and it can feel like there are countless obstacles ahead when first starting the process. In this guide, we’ll breakdown everything you need to know about living in the UK as an expat.

Quick UK Facts
  • Population: 66.6million
  • Expat population: ~6.2 million
  • Official language: English:
  • Currency: Pound (GBP)
  • Climate: Temperate
  • Popular living areas for expats: London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow, Birmingham.
  • Average salary: £30,420
  • Average cost of living: ~£2,150 per month for a single person

Visa requirements for living in the UK

No matter where you’re from, you’ll need a valid passport to enter the UK. Make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity left on it (ideally much longer).

The visa requirements for expats moving to the UK depend on where you are from. Here are the requirements for a few countries – if yours isn’t listed below, check your own countries requirements so you know what steps you’ll need to make.

Australia

Australian citizens with a parent who was born in the UK, or who were a Commonwealth citizen on 31st December 1982 and have remained a Common citizen continuously since are entitled to apply for ‘right of abode’, which means that you can legally live in the UK with no immigration restrictions.

Alternatively, you can apply for a UK ancestry visa. This visa has the following requirements:

  • You must be at least 17 years old
  • You must be able to prove that one of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • You need to apply before you go to the UK
  • You must have enough funds to support yourself and any dependents in the move
  • You must plan on working in the UK

The UK ancestry visa costs £516 and will expire after 5 years.

EU Citizens

Prior to Brexit, EU citizens did not need a visa to live and work in the UK. EU citizens already living in the UK have their right to reside protected until 30 June 2021. However, after the 20th December 2020, you’ll need to apply if you intend to remain living in the country.

Depending on your circumstances, you can either apply to the EU settlement scheme or apply for British citizenship. This guide to continuing to live in the UK if you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen provides a useful overview of the steps you need to take.

American citizens

American citizens looking to enter the UK to work, marry, as a partner/spouse, or as a student are required to obtain clearance prior to entering the UK. A popular visa route is to apply for a UK Work Permit. To submit your application, you will need to have received an offer of employment (which will be in the form of a certificate of sponsorship) from a UK employer who holds a sponsorship licence. Other requirements for this permit also take into account your previous earnings, requirements to meet the English language requirements, proof you can support yourself, your qualifications, and your age.

If this doesn’t sound applicable to your circumstances, you can check the Gov.uk’s page to check what visa you need.

Obtaining UK citizenship

If you meet a number of requirements, you may be able to apply for a UK citizenship by ‘naturalisation’. These are a few of the circumstances in which this might apply:

  • You’re married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen and have lived in the UK for the last three years, and also have one of the following:
    – Indefinite leave to remain
    – Settlement status (under the EU settlement scheme)
    – A permanent residence document
  • You have indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and have lived in the UK for the past 5 years
  • If you are from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you can apply for ‘settled status’ after you’ve lived in the UK for 5 years

You may also be eligible to apply for citizenship if:

  • You have a British parent
  • You’re stateless
  • If you’re a Commonwealth citizen, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship under the Windrush Scheme if both:
    – You or one of your parents arrived in the UK before 1973
    – You’ve lived in the UK and not been away from it for more than 2 years

The impact of Brexit

In June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union – triggering the start of a tense and complex process to untangle the UK from decades to EU legislation. This became known as Brexit. Understandably, the freedom of movement between the UK and EU countries has been a point of contention in the lead up to Britain officially leaving the UK, especially for UK expats and those living in the UK as an immigrant.

On 31st January 2020, Britain officially left the European Union, and on the 2nd December, the country’s new immigration application system was officially made live. This means that E.U. citizens must meet a number of criteria in a points system in order to work or study in the UK. Criteria include points for English language skills and a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 (with exceptions for hard-to-fill skill sectors).

Sending money back home from the UK

It is estimated that the UK sends over $20 billion in global remittances on a yearly basis, with the top countries receiving those payments being Nigeria, India, France, Pakistan, and Germany (in that order).

Sending money to support family back home is commonplace for expats living in the UK, whether that’s a regular payment or a one-off gift being sent internationally. Thankfully, such a large sum of money being sent from the UK on a yearly basis means that there are a number of methods to make this process cheaper, faster, and more convenient for everyone. 

What’s the best way to send money from the UK?

One of the most reliable ways to send money abroad from the UK is a money transfer operator. These services tend to benefit from lower fees, more competitive exchange rates, and faster transfer times than traditional banks, not to mention offering user-friendly apps for sending money on the go.

Some of the best services for sending your money back home from the UK include PagoFX, a company that aims to help more people send their money abroad for lower costs. The company offers a real-time mid-market rate for every international transfer, with fees as little as 0.7% of the sent amount.

What to look out for

Wherever you’re sending money back to from the UK, there are a number of things to be aware of or to watch out for to make sure you’re staying safe with your money:

  • Use a provider you trust: Make sure you are using a regulated money transfer operator with bank-grade security and reliable reviews that reassure you your money is safe.
  • Check the exchange rate: Exchange rates are susceptible to change on a frequent basis, so keep an eye on the mid-market rate so you can get the best deal when converting pounds into the currency of whatever country you are sending to.
  • Inform yourself on transfer fees: PagoFX and many other reliable MTOs provide a clear and transparent breakdown of the international transfer fees for every transaction you make – be sure you know exactly what fees you’ll be paying and how much your recipient will get on the other end before locking in your transfer to make sure you’re getting the cheapest deal.
  • Speed: If you need to send money from the UK for an emergency, speed will be of the utmost importance. Thankfully, most money transfer operators are able to process your transfer within hours after sending it – read our guide on the fastest ways to send money for more information.

Cost of living

A report from Internations estimates the average cost of living in the UK to be £2,150 for a single person each month, and £3,700 for a family of four. However, the cost of living really depends on where you are in the UK.

London, for example, is one of the most expensive cities in the world, with high rent prices and an overall inflated cost of living in almost all areas compared to other areas in the UK. At the other end of the scale, you’ll find more affordable housing and cost of living in areas such as Wales and Scotland – for example, Glasgow is one of the most affordable cities to buy a home in. 

The cost of living should be a key consideration when deciding where to move to. You should consider the average salary for your vocation (which may change depending on location) versus the cost of living .

Housing

The housing market in the UK is fast-moving, so it’s a good idea to know exactly what you’re looking for before you start your search to avoid missing out on good properties. Equally, you’ll need to have a good idea of your budget before starting your search – if you’re opting to move to the capital for better job opportunities, you’ll need to be prepared to pay up to double the amount of rent you would pay elsewhere in the country.

Many expats to the UK will head to London because of the excellent career opportunities, but it’s worth noting that London is one of the most expensive places to live in the country, with many young professionals living in house shares in order to afford the high rental prices. The benefits of renting, however, are that you have the opportunity to live in a number of areas if you’re not quite sure where you want to end up.

If you are keen to get on the property market in the UK, you might consider looking elsewhere to the Capital for more affordable housing. Take a look at the latest housing prices across the UK for an idea of what kind of mortgage you can expect to need.

Finances

The first thing you should know is that there is no legal requirement to have a UK bank account when living in the UK. If you wanted to, you could instead rely on credit unions or building societies, but having a bank account in the UK will make accessing your money much easier.

When it comes to things such as paying bills and applying for a mortgage or registering with a new employer, a UK bank account may be required. Additionally, paying with your UK bank account will incur less fees than if you were to send money using a foreign bank account

Alternatively, you could get an international bank account (check out our guide on the best banks for expats) that enables you to access your money from overseas, or you could consider a multi-currency account that allows you to hold multiple currencies.

Getting the best rate for currency conversions

If you are leaving financial responsibilities behind in your home countries or planning on regularly sending money from your foreign bank account to a new account in the UK, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a money transfer service that gives you the best rate for your transfer.

Unfair exchange rates and high transfer fees could mean you’re losing money every time you send money across borders, which can be frustrating when you’re simply trying to move your own money between accounts!

Using a reliable, transparent money transfer provider such as PagoFX is a good option here. PagoFX offers international transfers at the mid-market rate, which means you’re getting the fairest, most accurate exchange rate for an international transfer at any given time. Additionally, the service will clearly display any fees you should expect to pay for your transfer from the off-set, so you always know how much you’ll end up with.

Healthcare

Living in the UK means you are entitled to access to the free National Health Service (NHS), a socialised healthcare system which means you can be treated at very little or no cost to you (you may need to pay for medication in some circumstances).

Your residency is all you need to receive free NHS healthcare in the UK, so make sure you have an official letter such as a utility bill or bank statement as proof of address and your ID to register at your local doctor’s surgery.

Education

The education system in England and Wales states that by law, all children from five to aged sixteen must be in full-time education, while the compulsory age in Northern Ireland is four. All children between these ages are entitled to a free place at a public state school, or you could choose to pay for your child to attend a private school. You’ll need to apply for the school you wish for your child to attend, so being aware of the deadlines for these applications is essential. 

Children start their secondary school education at the age of 11, in which they study a broad range of around 10 to 15 subjects including core modules such as English, Maths, Science. At the age of 16, students may take a further two years of education for their A-Levels, which are required to go on to further education in UK Universities.

Climate

The climate in the UK can be described as temperate, with cool, wet winters and warm, wet summers. Spring and Autumn (March – May and September – November) tend to bring sunny days and mild weather, whilst the Summer months (June – August) can see temperatures of around 9–18 degrees Celsius, although temperatures can reach up to 30 degrees Celsius in heatwaves. Winters tend to be cold and wet, with snow rare. 

Top tips for moving to the UK

Beyond the official paperwork and documentation needed to successfully move to the UK, what can you do to make sure you blend into British culture seamlessly? Here are some tips: 

Learn the language

Sharpening your English language skills will stand you in good stead when living in the UK. Although the UK is certainly a multicultural country, English is the main spoken language and a good way to meet locals and fit into the culture easier.

Learn the language on the go

Using an app such as DuoLingo can be a great way to learn a language and keep your skills up to scratch. You can set yourself a goal to practice for 30 minutes every single day, and best of all, most of these apps have free versions so you can learn on the go for nothing.

Use sites such as Meetup and Facebook to find friends

There are large expat communities on Meetup and in Facebook groups that you can join to connect with others from your home country as well as other expats who moved to the UK from abroad.

Equally, sites like Meetup are great for meeting people with shared interests. For example, if you love getting outdoors and going for walks in the countryside, you will certainly find a group of likeminded people to join – whilst there are also groups for people who prefer a night in at the pub with good conversation! 

Get to know the culture

It’s no secret that British culture revolves around a night out at the local pub. Beyond the drinking culture, pubs are a popular place to socialise and spend time with friends and family alike. It’s likely that you’ll be invited out for drinks with your new colleagues after joining a new company – don’t turn down this invite, as this is most likely when your colleagues will turn into friends!

Additionally, politeness is a fairly ingrained part of British culture. Jumping the queue isn’t just a stereotype – in the UK, it’s seen as extremely rude. Politeness is a quality that’s valued in the UK – if you accidentally bump into someone in the street, you’re more likely to be apologised to. However, it’s worth noting that while the UK may seem small compared to the United States or Australia, it has a vast number of regional identities each with their own set of cultural norms and differences. Moving to the UK with an open-minded attitude and being able to adapt to the norms of the area you choose to settle in is the best approach you could have.

Bottom line: moving to the UK as an expat

The UK is a country rich in history and culture, with countless opportunities to make a life for yourself here. Taking a little time now to do some research into the country and what to expect when you arrive will help you feel more at ease settling into a new home.

Managing your finances can be a top concern for any expat new to a country. Whether you’re moving countries for a job, or are moving abroad in search of better opportunities, it’s highly likely that at some point, you’ll need to move funds across borders.

Using a reliable, transparent service such as PagoFX can help you ensure you’re keeping as much of your money as possible when making an international transfer with the real-time mid-market rate on any given day. 

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Disclaimer: This article was written in collaboration with PagoFX. All opinions are our own.

Yasmin Purnell

Yasmin is the content writer for MoneyTransfers.com. With an English degree from the University of Nottingham and over 5 years’ experience freelancing in the personal finance niche, Yasmin joined the team with a mission to make international money transfers accessible and easy to understand for all. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Yasmin on her yoga mat or planning her next escape to the mountains.