The UK at a Glance
Social Security and Business in the UKiStockphoto
Don't neglect your financial planning and pension savings while working in the UK!
Social Insurance Issues
As soon as you start working in the UK, register for tax purposes or claim benefits, you need a National Insurance Number. Your employer or the person handling your claim at the Job Centre requests one for you from the Department of Work and Pensions. You just have to provide proof of identity.
Foreigners working in the UK are usually well provided for. There is no need to take out special health insurance because every resident is entitled to free treatment on the NHS. All you need to do is register with your local doctor (GP = General Practitioner). You can, of course, opt for private health insurance, and you may even get a special deal through your employer.
As soon as you take up paid employment, National Insurance contributions are deducted from your salary. These are used to build up your Basic State Pension. Everyone who has paid National Insurance contributions is entitled to this pension once they have reached State Retirement age, even if they no longer live in the UK. If you have only worked in the UK for a few years, your Basic State Pension will be very small.
Furthermore, many employers offer company pensions or group personal pensions (a private pension scheme). You decide how much of your monthly salary goes into your pension pot, and this contribution is usually matched by your employer. Some schemes have government contributions via tax relief.
While this is a great means to stock up your pension, you should always check the transfer and pay-out options beforehand. In this way, you’ll ensure that you don´t lose any money when leaving the UK.
Social Security Agreements
The UK has social security agreements with most EEA states and some other countries (e.g. Canada, Japan, Korea, and the USA). This means that the National Insurance contributions you have made in the UK will count towards any benefits you might be entitled to in your country of origin.
It is important that you keep all important documents from your employer or from Her Majesty´s Revenue and Customs to assist future claims. When leaving the UK on completion of a work assignment, you may be entitled to tax repayment for that year. The relevant forms and more information on social security agreements can be found on the HMRC website.
Diversity in the Workplace
In some ways, British society can be perceived as contradictory, as both traditional and modern. While the latter is mainly due to its increasing cultural diversity, the former manifests itself in a lingering class consciousness. Depending on where you come from, this can be a new experience. This mixture of new communities and old-fashioned hierarchies and social mores will, at its best, produce a rich and diverse cultural life.
While the term cultural diversity mainly refers to people from different ethnic backgrounds, often former colonies, please be aware that not all white UK residents of British origin are English. There is a strong sense of regional identity among the Scottish, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, who do not like being referred to as English.
Ethnic diversity has had one major impact on employment and the job market in the UK: Most British employers believe in equal opportunities, and any perceived discrimination on grounds of race, sex, age or disability will be taken seriously. You can expect to be treated with respect regardless of your background, and society will demand equal respect for all its members from you in return.
The atmosphere in the work place depends very much on the company you are working for. Young companies, especially in the media and creative fields, tend to be less formal than traditional businesses with hierarchical structures. Colleagues and business partners usually address each other by their first name, but to avoid possible embarrassment in a new environment, you should observe common practice. Business gifts are not usual.
The British style of conversation is something you might have to get used to. It is indirect, understated, and equivocal. In meetings, try to refrain from definite statements or direct criticism. A blunt objection could be considered as impolite as a direct personal question. Similarly, to communicate with the British, it is important to read between the lines. Hints and politeness will dictate most conversations you have in the UK.