Everything you should know when you move to the UK

 

 

With the event of the controversial "Brexit", which entails Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, the United Kingdom may now seem somewhat lacklustre as a destination for expats. Shrouded in economic uncertainty, the Pound currency has hit a new low in three decades, which can be an upside or downside for expats, depending on whether they are collecting their salary in their home currency.

Majestic landscapes, a rich and colourful history, and a multifaceted culture; these are just few things that make the United Kingdom unique.  

Things you should know before you move

1. There are 4 countries in this country, and people are very particular about it

We all know it as The UK, or Great Britain, but the full official name of this nation is “The United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” and it is quite literally a country of countries and people who are from the UK can be quite particular about it. The 4 countries that make up the United Kingdoms are:

  • England
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland 

People who are from these countries are still called English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish, and people from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can take offense if you just call all of them “Englishmen”. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland even have their own devolved administration, capitals, and culture. Wales for example still has a very active language (Welsh), and it is still taught in Welsh schools. 

If you’re moving to parts of the UK, this is something you should know, as education systems, and other administrative laws are not the same in the 4 countries of the UK. And most of all do not make the mistake of assuming everyone from the UK is English.

"I didn't use a moving company, just two very large suitcases! I'm all about lists, so my packing consisted of following a list and doing a “practice pack” a week or so before my move, to make sure everything I planned on bringing would actually fit."- Alanna, Expat in England

2. You may work under certain student visa types

There are various types of visas issued to foreign students entering the UK for academic purposes. Here are some that will allow you to study and work in the country.

a) Short-term study visa – This visa is applicable to foreigners from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland who are to do a short course of study in the UK. This is also issued to those doing a short period of research as part of a program abroad.

Holders of the short-term study visa may NOT enrol at a state-run school, work or carry out any business, request for visa extension, bring dependents nor receive public funds.

This visa is valid for six months for any short course, or 11 months if the holder is over 18 years old AND taking an English language course.

b) Tier 4 (Child) student visa – This visa is issued to foreigners aged 4 to 17, from outside the EEA and Switzerland, planning of studying at an independent school in the UK. Holders of this visa may request to extend their stay.

This visa allows holders aged 16 or over to work part-time for up to 10 hours per week, full-time during vacations, or do internship work as part of the course. The student may also work as a student Union sabbatical officer for up to 2 years.

Holders aged in the UK until the completion of their courses plus 4 months afterwards. The course length is between 3 to 6 years.

c) Tier 4 (General) student visa – This visa is applicable to foreign students aged 16 and over and were accepted in an educational institution, able to communicate in English proficiently, have enough money to support their stay and NOT from the EEA nor Switzerland.

Holders may stay in the UK up to 1 week before, if their course lasts 6 months or less, or up to 1 month before, if their course lasts more than 6 months.

This visa allows foreign students to work in most jobs and apply to extend their stay.

"When we moved, we just had one luggage each. We bought a Eurostar ticket and a room via AirBnB for a month. It was scary at the beginning because we came from nowhere. But my fiancé found a job quickly, and we started from there."- Estelle Van de Velde, Expat in Brighton, UK

3. Some income earned in the UK are tax-free

Do you know that some income is exempted from tax? The interest you get from your savings allowance and the income you earn from tax-exempt accounts are tax-free. You don’t also pay tax on the first £5,000 of dividends from company shares, certain state benefits, premium bond or National Lottery wins and rent you get from a lodger in your house that’s below the rent a room limit.

Here’s the current income tax rates imposed in the UK:

Taxable Income

Tax Rate

Up to £11,000

0%

£11,000 to £43,000

20%

£43,000 to £150,000

40%

Over £150,000

45%

4. You may need to pay for an immigration health surcharge

Private healthcare in the UK, can be quite expensive, which is why people are fighting so hard to keep their NHS service. Some foreigners are required to pay a healthcare surcharge as part of their immigration application. This will give access to the National Health Service (NHS). If you’re a foreigner from a country outside the EEA, AND applying for a UK visa outside the UK, you’d need to pay the healthcare surcharge. This is also applicable to those applying for a visa to work, study or join their family in the UK for more than 6 months. Moreover, all foreigners making an immigration application for any length of time are mandated to pay the fee.

"The hardest part was getting a visa and the admin of starting out in a new city – new bank account, new phone, new dentist, doctor, accountant, enrolling in National Insurance and NHS, paying US and UK taxes, and of course moving my career over here."- Kosha Engler, Expat in London, The United Kingdom

Applicants for visas that last 6 months or less and those applying for permanent residency are exempted from the coverage of this rule.

5. There are more than 20 languages spoken in the UK

English is spoken throughout the Kingdom, though there are other minor languages you may encounter. According to the Office for National Statistics, roughly 93% of the population speaks English (or Welsh in Wales), the other 7% communicate in:

  • Polish
  • Punjabi
  • Urdu
  • Bengali
  • Gujarati
  • Arabic
  • French
  • Chinese (excluding Mandarin and Cantonese)
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Tamil
  • Turkish
  • Italian
  • Somali
  • Lithuanian
  • German
  • Persian/Farsi
  • Tagalog
  • Romanian 

There are also several living indigenous languages in the UK such as:

  • Germanic English
  • Germanic Scots
  • Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland
  • Welsh Celtic
  • Irish Celtic
  • Angloromani
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Cornish Celtic
  • Shelta

 6. Bank holidays in the Kingdom

If you’re about to join the UK workforce, you should take note of the following bank holidays for 2017 in England and Wales:

Date

Holiday

January 2

New Year’s Day (substitute day)

April 14

Good Friday

April 17

Easter Monday

May 1

Early May bank holiday

May 29

Spring bank holiday

August 28

Summer bank holiday

December 25

Christmas Day

December 26

Boxing Day

 

Here are the public holidays observed in Scotland:

Date

Holiday

January 2

2nd January holiday

January 3

New Year’s Day (substitute day)

April 14

Good Friday

May 1

Early May bank holiday

May 29

Spring bank holiday

August 7

Summer bank holiday

November 30

St. Andrew’s Day

December 25

Christmas Day

December 26

Boxing Day

 

The 2017 holidays celebrated in Northern Ireland are as follows: 

Date

Holiday

January 2

New Year’s Day (substitute day)

March 17

St. Patrick’s Day

April 14

Good Friday

April 17

Easter Monday

May 1

Early May bank holiday

May 29

Spring bank holiday

July 12

Battle of the Boyne (Orangemen’s Day)

August 28

Summer bank holiday

December 25

Christmas Day

December 26

Boxing Day

 

If a holiday falls on a weekend, the government sets the following business day as a “substitute” holiday.

7. The many entitlements enjoyed by workers

Under UK laws, workers are entitled to certain employment rights. “Workers” are those who are bound in an employer-employment relationship via a written or oral contract; those who receives money or benefit in exchange for work or services; and those under subcontracting. The rights they are granted are as follows:

a) To receive the national minimum wage

b) To be protected against unlawful deductions from wages

c) To be entitled to the statutory minimum level of paid holiday and rest breaks

d) To refuse to work for more than 48 hours on average per week

e) To be protected against unlawful discrimination

f) To be protected for “whistleblowing”, or the reporting of wrongdoing in the workplace

g) To enjoy sick pay, maternity pay, paternity pay, adoption pay, and parental pay, subject to conditions.

Any violation of employment rights are heard and decided by the employment tribunal (or industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland).

8. Foreign visitors can drive in the UK using a non-UK license

If you’re visiting the UK and received your license from a country other than Northern Ireland, the EU, the EEA, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, you can drive any small vehicle such a car or motorcycle for 12 months since your arrival.

Foreign students studying in the UK may drive for 12 months using their non-EU driving license or international driving permit. However, they’d need to apply for a provisional UK license, pass a driving test and apply for a full license after staying in the UK for at least 6 months. You may apply for a provisional license online.

After becoming a resident, foreign students can exchange their non-EU license for a UK license, which is valid for up to 5 years.

"The most memorable part was cramming all of my belongings into a suitcase almost bigger than myself, and wearing plenty of layers of clothes on the plane because they wouldn’t fit in my bag!"- Kalyn Franke, Expat in London, England

9. Foreigners may be part of the National Insurance

To qualify for social benefits under the National Insurance (NI), you should be 16 year old or older, a worker earning more than £155 per week, or a self-employed individual and making a profit of £5,965 or more a year.

Classifications of NI members and the entity that pay the contributions:

a) Class 1 - Workers earning more than £155 per week AND under the State Pension age pay their contributions via salary deductions;

b) Class 1A or 1B – The employers pay these contributions of these workers on the latter’s expenses or benefits;

c) Class 2 – The self-employed workers shoulder their own contributions unless they earn less than £5,965 per year;

d) Class 3 – Voluntary contributions by self-employed workers or unemployed individuals;

e) Class 3A – Voluntary contributions, top up pension; and

f) Class 4 – Self-employed individuals earning more than £8,060 per year. 

The NI provides the following benefits:

Benefit

Class 1: EMPLOYEES

Class 2: SELF-EMPLOYED

Class 3: VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS

Basic State Pension

Yes

Yes

Yes

Additional State Pension

Yes

No

No

New State Pension

Yes

Yes

Yes

Contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

Yes

No

No

Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance

Yes

Yes

No

Maternity Allowance

Yes

Yes

No

Bereavement benefits

Yes

Yes

Yes

What’s life like in the UK

As historic as you could imagine

The UK has a long colourful history dating back to 6,500 BC. The Kingdom is home to more than 28 cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites to name a few:

  • Blenheim Palace
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • Dorset
  • East Devon Coast
  • Durham Castle
  • Cathedral
  • Henderson Island
  • Ironbridge Gorge
  • Royal Botanical Gardens
  • Saltaire
  • Stonehenge
  • St. Kilda

The UK has submitted 12 other monuments, sites and properties to be included in the UNESCO tentative list.

Aside from the UNESCO world heritage listed sites, you can actually feel the history of the country in almost every city and town you visit. Whether you’re walking on the fields of Wales and suddenly spot a castle or a tower on the hill top, or strolling down some of the beautiful cobbled streets of London, you feel the rich culture and history of the United Kingdom and you should just feel happy to be a part of its new layers.

"The most memorable part of our packing/moving process is that the moving company we hired sent our things to New Zealand and shipped somebody else’s stuff to us in the UK. We opened our crate after waiting three months for it to get to us, and were like “this isn’t our stuff!” Our stuff was then loaded on another ship that ran aground near Singapore and had to be salvaged off of it. It finally made it to us in March – we moved in July."- Clarissa, Expat in England

Cost of living can be surprisingly low

London, as expected can be quite expensive. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. However, there are many other cities in the UK that are much cheaper even compared to other cities in Europe. The UK released the “Northern Powerhouse Strategy” putting focus on Northern Cities as the next powerhouse cities of the UK. The core cities of the north are Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds, and Sheffield are now being developed and contributing in the economic growth of the UK. These cities also have some of the most reasonable cost of living in the UK.

Really wet and cold

We always hear about the terrible weather in the UK, and it’s really not an exaggeration. Weather in the UK is one of the worst in Europe, mostly because the British Isles serves like a breakwater for the rest of Europe from the Atlantic Ocean. Northern cities especially have windy and rainy weather especially in places like Manchester and Liverpool. Always carry and umbrella, a raincoat, and get yourself some willies (wellington boots) if you intend to live in the UK.

 

 

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