After living in London for 6 years, I’m happy to share a few critical things to know before moving to London. Even as an American, the transition to London life was not as easy as you might think.
Sure the language is technically the same, but could you truly translate a Scouse accent on your very first try?
Not to mention that finding your first job in London can be chaos; especially if you need sponsorship. But fortunately, I’ve been through the wringer so you don’t have to.
In this article, I’ll be covering:
- The type of visa you’ll need to live in London
- How income tax works in the UK
- How to find a job in London
- What to do if you’re struggling to find job sponsorship
- How to access healthcare in the UK
- Why you should spend more on rent instead of commuting
- Why living in London is not representative of the UK
These are important things you need to know before moving to London to ensure you’re making the right decision for yourself and your family.
If you’re interested in getting my feedback on your exact circumstances, please book a private coaching session here.
If you’re interested in DIY’ing your move to London on your own, check out these helpful blog articles and resources.
- Get my Move Abroad Starter Kit to launch your research
- A step-by-step guide for moving to London (for Americans)
- A checklist of important things to consider for your move abroad
- How to do a masters degree in London (like I did!)
These articles will help you structure your move to London quickly and efficiently.
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8 Important Things to Know Before Moving to London
1. You Will Likely Need a Long-Stay Visa to Live in the UK
Now that Brexit is in full swing, it’s anyone’s guess what the visa process will be like for EEA (European Economic Area) passport holders.
Nothing much has changed for anyone without an EEA passport (e.g. Americans, Canadians, Indians, etc).
Prior to Brexit, if you had an EEA passport, you could move around the UK freely, find a job, and build a life there. It was a sweet situation.
If you held a non-EEA passport (like my American passport), you would need a student, family, or work visa to settle in London, pay tax, set up a bank account, etc.
You could get these visas by getting a sponsored job, marrying an EEA passport holder, or studying at university.
Without a long-stay visa, you are only allowed to stay in the UK for a limited amount of time (usually 1 to 6 months, depending on your passport) and there are serious limitations to a tourist visa.
For example, on a tourist visa, you cannot:
- use the National Health Service (NHS)
- enroll your kids in the local public school system
- open a bank account
- take advantage of government services
There are exceptions to every case, but this is typically the standard for most countries. Tourist visas don’t entitle you too much anywhere.
I‘ve lived abroad for many years and love helping others find work abroad and figure out their “Move Abroad Plan.” Check out my class below to get you started ASAP!
2. Don’t Panic! Taxes are Not as High as You Think in London
Like the United States, the United Kingdom runs on a progressive tax system. As your income goes up, so does your tax burden.
However, for those coming from states with high-income taxes, you might NOT be paying much more than you would be paying in America!
Here’s a general overview of the tax brackets as of Oct 2021:
- Personal allowance £12,570 taxed a 0%
- Basic rate £12,571-£50,270 taxed at 20%
- Higher rate £50,271 – £150,000 taxed at 40%
As a reminder, this is not a flat tax rate where you pay 40% on all £60,000 of your income.
Instead, the first £12,570 of your income isn’t taxed and then you’ll pay 20% on everything in-between £12,571-£50,270.
This leaves an additional £9,730 leftover (out of the original £60,000) and that is taxed at the higher rate of 40%.
When I made an annual salary of £33,500 at my first job in London, I took home about £2,000 after tax each month.
I was able to pay my rent and live my life on a modest budget just fine while enjoying all the benefits of universal healthcare.
3. Don’t Make This Critical Mistake When Job Hunting
Finding a job in London is one thing. Finding a job that will sponsor your visa is a completely different ball game.
When you’re a foreigner, you will likely have to get some sort of visa sponsorship from a local company to secure a work visa.
This work visa will allow you to pay taxes on your income, enroll in government programs, and participate in the community around you.
Without a legitimate visa, you cannot become a legal resident of that country, and this is how people become undocumented.
When hunting for a sponsored job in London, you’ll need to prepare thoroughly even before you start interviewing.
First, you’ll want to clarify which companies can and can’t sponsor you.
Typically, large international companies will have the resources to sponsor your visa. Hospitality and service jobs will likely not have the same flexibility.
Second, you’ll want to narrow down your applications to only companies that 1) have the power to sponsor people and 2) focus on an industry you have experience.
Experience is often a requirement for work visa applications so play it safe for your first job in London.
Third, you want to make sure you have thorough records of your personal, work, and financial history for the last 5 years (or more).
This would include college academic reports, your work history, references, payslips, and whatever else that might prove you’re well-qualified and educated.
These three steps will be critical for your work visa application, and you should start preparing those documents now before you submit your first application.
Otherwise, your visa application could be rejected, or the process will be dragged out.
4. Check the Labor Shortage List for Jobs
If you’re struggling to find a job sponsorship in London, check the ‘shortage occupation list’ provided by the UK government here.
This list indicates which professions have shortages of local talent (i.e. there are not enough native UK workers to meet demand).
Normally, non-UK residents have to be sponsored by a company in order to work in the UK and the hiring company needs to prove that they were unable to find anyone who could fill that position locally. This is the ‘labor market test.’
To hire for the positions on this list, employers do not need to apply the labor market test in order to fill the position with foreign talent.
5. To Access UK Healthcare, You’ll Need a National Insurance Number
Healthcare in the United Kingdom is not like the United States. Yes, there is the opportunity to purchase private health insurance, but most people are part of the NHS (National Healthcare Service).
This is a universal healthcare program that all legal residents can take advantage of thanks to tax contributions.
The way that you’ll access the NHS once you move to London is through your national insurance number. Your tax information will also be tied to this number.
Once you move to London and receive your national insurance number, you’ll want to go to your local GP (General Practitioners) and register your details.
A GP is essentially a doctor’s office that treats all types of common medical conditions. If your condition is more serious, they can refer you to a specialist or urgent care.
6. Trust Me – You Should Spend More on Rent to Live Closer to Work
The average London commute is 74 minutes a day (National Express Transport Solutions) and you’ll pay a high price for the pleasure of being squished like sweaty sardines onto a train.
So, is it really worth it to live further outside the city to save on rent?
In my opinion, the math just doesn’t add up for single young professionals. Some of my colleagues were paying close to £500 pounds per month to commute 2 hours every day from the suburbs of London.
For an extra £300 pounds, you can get a better room in Zone 1-3 and shorten your commute significantly.
A shorter commute also means more affordable late-night taxis home and fewer canceled trains during rush hour.
If you’re a family with small children, I can understand the allure of living in the suburbs. There is definitely more space with better schools and fewer ‘city problems’ outside of London.
However, whatever you don’t pay for in rent, you’ll pay for it with time.
My colleagues with families were community 2 hours one-way because they first needed to take the tube to get to their train…. And then their train would be canceled, delayed, or overpacked.
Just to get to work on time, they would have to leave at 6 am and miss seeing their families in the morning. There was definitely no way to get home at a reasonable hour either.
Money can always return. You can’t get back sleep or time.
7. Living in London Won’t Feel Like You’re Living in the UK
If you’re looking for a ‘cottage-core’ lifestyle in the English countryside, consider moving anywhere other than London.
You’ll need to go to a second-tier city or consider moving to an actual village.
London is more like an independent city-state. It’s the heartbeat of culture, industry, and innovation!
People from all over the world flock to London; that’s part of the reason I loved it so much!
However, with such a diverse and open environment, you’ll sometimes forget that you’re living in the United Kingdom.
You can even go for hours without having to speak English in London because there are wonderful little pockets of immigrant communities spread across the city.
Obviously, this isn’t the experience that everyone expects when they imagine moving to ‘Harry Potter’ Land, but it’s the truth!
London is not an accurate representation of the United Kingdom. Instead, it’s a reflection of the world.
8. You’ll Never Know Everything; But This is a Start
Don’t let analysis paralysis dominate your move to London. It’s important that you take things in stride and remember that no move is ever perfect; the important thing is to just start.
If you’d like my direct feedback about your personal circumstances, please enroll in a private coaching session with me via this link.
This is a 1x 45-minute meeting where you’ll be able to pick my brain about the visa process, finding jobs in London, and anything else you might be curious about. Book now.
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- If you’re an American abroad, here’s more information on tax deadlines
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- If you have an American passport, these countries are easy to move to!