How to move to the UK: Step by step guide


The UK is a popular destination country for expats, thanks to the variety of lifestyle options available, as well as the high standard of living. With no language barrier for anyone with native or high-level English skills, spending some time living in the UK is an appealing and accessible option.

However, depending on where in the world you’re coming from, there are likely to be a few steps you need to consider and take before you plan your move. This guide walks through some of the things you need to think about, to help kickstart your research. We’ll also touch on how the  Wise account can help you with one of the biggest hurdles involved in moving abroad - managing your money across currencies.

How to understand - and manage - the cost of living in London

Before we go any further, one thing to note is that life in the UK is not cheap. Although smaller cities and towns offer lower costs, many new arrivals in the UK opt to live in London, which is among the world’s most expensive cities. Depending on what you’re used to, rental costs, entertainment and food prices may come as a shock. 

Get insights into the cost of living in London and other UK cities from Numbeo. Live data is aggregated to show a real-time picture across key categories like salary, rent, restaurant meals and groceries. Here are some headlines to consider:

  • Average monthly net salary in London - £2,800
  • Average rent 1 bedroom city centre - £1,687
  • 3 course meal in a mid-range restaurant, 2 people - £60
  • 12 eggs at a grocery store - £2.16
  • 1 loaf of bread - £1.02
  • 1 kilo of apples - £2.16
  • Monthly transportation pass - £150

As an expat you’ll also need to consider how to manage your money across borders to avoid unnecessary currency conversion and transfer costs. 

It’s likely that you’ll need to convert your home currency to pounds, at least for a short while as you settle into the UK. With the high conversion fees set by regular banks, this can be an expensive process. It’s also worth knowing that many banks and currency exchange services add a markup or margin to the exchange rate they use.

Getting the Wise account can help, with low cost currency exchange at the mid-market exchange rate. More on that later.

Step 1: Legal requirements to move to the UK

The first thing you’ll need to look at is that legal situation regarding entry to the UK, and what visa or permits you may need. The UK has a complex system for immigration with a wide range of different visa and permit types, depending on whether you’re coming to work, study or be united with family. Luckily there are many online tools available from the UK government which can help you work out the visa options for your situation - and agents who can assist your application for a fee.

Visa requirements and eligibility do change regularly, so check up to date information before you make plans. Here’s an overview of what you need to know.

Moving to the UK as an American

You’ll need a visa if you’re planning on coming to the UK to work and will stay for an extended period. The type of visa, and the process you need to go through varies depending on your situation. There’s a helpful tool on the UK government website which allows you to navigate the options which might suit you, to pick the right visa and application process.

Moving to the UK from Australia

For longer stays, or when you’re planning on working, you’ll need to research and apply for a visa. There are a broad range of visa options, including youth mobility visas and the ancestry visa which is available to Australians who have a UK born grandparent. Use the online tools available to check the options and select your visa.

Moving to the UK from Europe

If you’re from the EU or an EEA country, the processes for entering and remaining in the UK have changed on the 1 January 2021 due to Brexit. The process you’ll need to follow will depend on when you arrive in the UK, how long you plan to stay, and what you’re intending to do. For working stays of 6 months or more you’ll likely need a visa. Get all the latest on this, on the UK government website.

Step 2: Manage your finances 

To settle into the UK you’ll need a bank account to let you pay rent, receive a salary and set up essential utilities. You can open an account with a major UK highstreet bank upon arrival, but you might find you’re better off with a specialist in cross-border finance, like Wise

UK banks offer a good range of account products, but you’ll usually need to prove your residential address in the UK, and you may find that there are high fees for some of the services you really need as an expat, like international transfers and currency conversion. 

You’re better able to hit the ground running with Wise.

You’ll be able to open a Wise account before you leave your home country, so you’re set up and ready to go. Accounts come with UK bank details so you can receive salary payments like a local, even before you confirm your residential address in the UK. You’ll then be able to hold British pounds as well as dozens of other currencies, and switch between them using the mid-market exchange rate with no markups. You’ll only ever pay a low, transparent fee which can make it much easier and cheaper to manage your finances as you relocate. As well as UK bank details you’ll also get bank details for much of the world including the US, euro area, Australia and New Zealand - so you can still receive payments fee free from home when you need to.

Step 3: How to find a job

Before you can get a job in the UK you’ll need to check whether you’re legally allowed to work. Some visas may have restrictions on whether you work, or the type of activity you can undertake.

Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility to work, online job sites are a smart way to get a picture of the type of role being advertised in your area. Try any of these popular options:

Step 4: Finding a place to live in the UK

In some parts of the UK - notably London - you’ll find rental prices are high, and the market can move quickly. You’ll need to be ready to pay a deposit and move in pretty much instantly to find a great place. Take a look at popular online sites to see the sorts of rental properties coming up in your chosen area:

Another good option is to look one one of the many flat sharing sites to find a place you can move in with others. This brings down the costs and can create an instant social network. Spareroom is one of the largest sites connecting people looking for shared accommodation in the UK.

Step 5: Sorting out the health care options

The UK has a world famous National Health System, which offers free primary care for all. However, for secondary care - usually where more specialized or ongoing support is needed - many expats need to have indefinite leave to remain in the UK to benefit. Check your cover, and consider taking out an additional medical insurance policy for peace of mind and to cover any shortfall.
Moving to a new country is exciting - but there’s a lot to think about before your dreams can become a reality. Make sure you check out all the legal requirements and processes so you’re prepared in advance, and can apply for your visa or permit in good time. You’ll also find it easier to settle in if you get a Wise account to allow you to manage your money in the UK - even before you arrive.

Disclaimer: This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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