A guide to the UK as an expat
Are you planning on making a long-term, or perhaps even permanent move to the United Kingdom (UK)? To help you prepare, we’ve compiled some information on everything from visa requirements, to finding the best schools after you’ve settled into your new home abroad.
Population: 66,040,229 according to a 2017 estimate 
Memberships: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales
Capital city: London
National language: English
Currency: Pound sterling (GBP, £)
Language in the UK
The United Kingdom consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their official language is English and 98% of the population are fluent. Some regional languages are also spoken, including Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Welsh.
Visa requirements in the UK
The UK allows a wide range of countries to visit for under 6-months without a visa. Anyone from countries within the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area can enter the country without a visa. There are also 56 countries that are considered non-visa nationals who will need to obtain an entry certificate before going to the UK but won’t need to apply for a visa.
Expats coming from countries that aren’t in the non-visa national category (visa nationals) will need to apply for a visa for any entry into the UK. Expats looking to work in the UK may need to apply for a work visa depending on where you are from. Currently countries in the EU and the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) can work in the UK freely however, this is likely to change as the UK comes to a conclusion on Brexit. Expats from non-EU/EFTA countries will need to apply for a work visa. To be eligible for most work visas you will need sponsorship from your employer or potential employer and be a skilled worker. General work visas (Tier 2) allow you to stay in the UK for a maximum of 6 years.
Healthcare in the UK
The UK is considered to have one of the leading healthcare systems in the world called the National Healthcare Service (NHS), with the World Health Organisation ranking the UK’s healthcare 18th in the world. The NHS is free for all UK citizens and permanent residents. It is funded by individual National Insurance contributions which are automatically deducted from wages. For expats applying for a visa, most applicants will be required to pay the immigration health surcharge when their visa has been accepted. There are occasionally situations where they are exempt. Once this has been paid, expats will be entitled to the same treatment as citizens and permanent residents.
Payment & Finances in the UK
It is a good idea to open a new bank account in the UK once you’ve settled. By doing so, you can easily use and international money transfer service like OFX to move money between your home account and your new account. When you use a specialist service like OFX, you could get the money you need without getting hit with the high margins and fees that your bank would charge for the same type of transfer.
When it comes to paying for goods and services in the UK, whether you are shopping for clothes, eating at a restaurant, or paying for a ride in a taxi, credit and debit cards are an option. However, cash is also widely accepted, and many people use ATMs to get cash fast whenever they need it.
Schooling in the UK
Finding the right school upon arrival in a new and unfamiliar country can be a difficult task to navigate. There are a range of different options for schooling in the UK. The common options include state schools, international schools and private schools.
The Government provides free state schooling to anyone living in the UK. Government education is quite highly regarded and general offer a quality source of education. Generally, the better state-run schools are in more affluent areas. It is worth going to the local education authority (LEA) for more information if you are considering state education for your kids. International schools are a very popular option for expats coming to the UK as they generally have great facilities and teaching standards. They have a bigger focus on international curricula and will be more open to personalising to your needs. International schools are particularly useful for children coming to their later years of schooling when they will be considering university options. Many of these schools will personalise to your region or offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program which is internationally recognised. It’s best to keep in mind however, that these schools may have wait lists and are often expensive.
Private schools are another potential option for expats. Private schools generally follow the standard British curriculum but have a wider range of subjects and great focus on co-curricular activities, and often have smaller class sizes. If you are not near an international school and still want your children to have an internationally-focused education these are a better option than a state school, as many also offer the IB program now. Private schools often have and interview processes and entrance exams, they can also be very expensive.
Please be advised that while every effort is made to keep this information up to date, OFX does not provide employment, immigration or tax advice or the like, and you should always consult an employment, immigration or tax professional about your unique circumstances.
IMPORTANT: The contents of this blog do not constitute financial advice and are provided for general information purposes only without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation and particular needs of any particular person. UKForex Limited (trading as “OFX”) and its affiliates make no recommendation as to the merits of any financial strategy or product referred to in the blog. OFX makes no warranty, express or implied, concerning the suitability, completeness, quality or exactness of the information and models provided in this blog.