It turns out the challenging part of any move happens after you arrive.
I moved from Canada to England last February. I thought it would be a difficult process, but in fact: the logistics of my move–visa aside–were straightforward. I hired a moving company, bought a plane ticket, and rented an Airbnb in England. I wasn’t concerned about little differences like the oddly large power plugs; I wanted to know how to pay my taxes, rent a flat, and other basic things like get a debit card.
I searched for a lot of info online before I moved. GOV.UK, moving guides, and people’s personal experiences were my main sources of info. Most of this was incomplete, outdated, or a bit too optimistic. Many guides seem to be based on other guides rather than actual experience, so I will preface this post by saying that anything I recommend I did myself and it worked. Hopefully if you’re moving countries, particularly to the UK, this will help you settle here a bit easier!
Getting a Bank Account
Not having an address when you arrive in the UK is a bit of a Catch-22: you need one to open a bank account, to get a National Insurance Number (for tax), and do many other “regular human” type things. But how do you rent an apartment when you don’t have a bank account or a mailing address?
What most articles (and banks) don’t tell you is these accounts still require an address. I was told when I scheduled my Lloyds Bank account a Passport was all I needed, but once I arrived we had to stop at the “What is your address?” question. At HSBC I had to supply an address to get even a basic bank account. In the end I used my Airbnb host’s address, but you can’t guarantee you’ll have as accommodating a host. I’ve heard from others they used the hostel where they stayed.
Turns out, the checks done on this info is cursory at best: HSBC just needed a letter from my employer, and the Lloyds Bank agent glanced at my lease for half a second before we moved forward. So the trick to getting a bank account? Lie. Find a hostel, friend, Airbnb host, or anyone else who will let you use their address. Any address will do, just tell them it’s actually where you live and they’ll generally believe you. Failing this you’ll need to use cash until you actually have an address. If you don’t know for sure before you arrive in the UK that you’ll have an address you can use for the first month, you should get out enough cash to pay your first month’s rent and deposit. Having a physical address is the only way to get a National Insurance number and bank account in the UK.
Utilities and Taxes
You need to create an account with the following providers: electricity, water, sewage, and gas. This is straightforward, but depending on where you’re from you won’t be used to paying for water and sewage (in Canada, renters don’t pay for water). You’ll also need to register to pay Council Tax. When you move into a previously occupied property the old utility providers will contact you, but you can switch to any other provider if you like. Unlike Canada, where power companies are essentially run by the state, there are lots of options in the UK, including entirely green providers.
You can get started with these companies without proof of address. This is also true for Internet, TV, etc. I signed up for Internet with British Telecom in advance and had them come to install internet the same day I moved in. We actually had internet before we even had a bed!
Prepaid phones are fortunately easy to get in the UK. You can go to most convenience stores or any phone shop to buy a SIM card for around £1. Note that many actual phone stores (official Three stores, for instance) don’t sell prepaid SIMs in their own stores. Any off-brand phone store will have one though.
With most providers, you won’t be able to top-up your mobile phone with a foreign credit card. This is a problem if you don’t have a British bank account yet. Instead: head to any Tesco (or other store that advertises mobile phone top-up service) and buy a coupon.
Proving you can Work
If you came to the UK as an EEA citizen or on a partner (“settlement”) visa, you have the right to work as soon as you arrive. Your passport (and visa, if you have one) is all you need to prove your right to work. Some employers may say they need your National Insurance Number to pay you, but this isn’t true. You might also find online that you can get your employer to create a temporary National Insurance number for you, but this is also no longer true.
Your employer can pay you without a National Insurance Number and the British Tax Agency (HMRC) will create a temporary reference and mail it you. Just make sure you get your employer to list your address as their mailing address if you don’t have your own address yet, or you won’t get this reference letter!
You will need your National Insurance Number for things like employment benefits and other things, but you’re okay to start working before you get one!
Healthcare and the NHS
This part is actually quite easy: you don’t need an NHS number and you can register with a local doctor once you arrive. You will likely need an address (some doctors might not take residents outside a certain area), but I don’t think it’s required. At any rate, once I had a permanent address I registered with a local clinic and saw a doctor the next day, for free. The NHS will create your NHS Number for you if you don’t have one, and in general you won’t need to know it (but you can ask for it).
If you’re from Canada or the USA, you’ll be used to paying for your prescription drugs. I’m Diabetic and I used private insurance to cover my meds in Canada. In England, the NHS pays for your prescriptions if you have a chronic condition. I got my doctor to prescribe insulin and I picked it up the next day without even touching my wallet. Pretty awesome.
Driving and Vehicles
Getting a driver’s license will require proof of residence and proof of identity. You can usually exchange your old license for a UK one, but you’ll need to send away your old license and your current passport, so do this when you won’t be traveling for several weeks.
Importing a vehicle is fairly straightforward, but if you have a used vehicle close to forty years old, you should save yourself the headache and order a Year of Manufacture Letter from your vehicle maker. The DVLA don’t tell you this, but they will often request one for older vehicles close to the MOT exemption age. I imported a 1976 motorcycle in 2015 and was told I needed to send one. Honda takes four to six weeks to produce the letter (and it cost £30), so knowing this in advance would’ve been great.
After all this, it’s over. Congratulations! You’ve moved and managed to get yourself all set up in your new country.
Some of this system could be better, especially in such an immigrant-happy country like the UK. Don’t get discouraged, and remember that these systems are optimised for UK citizens born and living in the UK.
Despite what UKIP says, they’re still the majority.