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Working in the UK

Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in the UK

Working in the UK can be an enjoyable challenge. Or so some expats would have you believe. Find out all about the way the British approach work – plus everything that makes the country’s workforce unique – in our guide.

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The UK job market is fairly buoyant and still attracts people from all over the world. London especially is a magnet for international talent. However, the cost of living is relatively high.

While unemployment remains low, the average salary in real terms declined in the UK compared with inflation after the financial crash in 2007/8. Between 2014 and 2016, inflation slowed and wages rose, however, in late 2018, annual salaries were still more than 3% (760 GBP) lower than in 2008, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

On the other hand, the British working culture is one that many find attractive. Its mix of US-style dynamism with European-style hours and benefits give it a unique appeal.

The country’s towns and cities — London in particular — are attractive destinations for foreign employees and global companies, and in this article, we’ll give you information on how to find a job in the UK.

InterNations GO! gives you a rundown of the essential aspects of working in the UK, from working as self-employed and social security fees, to entry permits and British business etiquette.

How To Get a Job in The UK

If you’re wondering how to get a job in the UK as a foreigner, there’s something that might make you feel more optimistic about your chances: many foreign nationals have an advantage if they are fluent in at least one more language than British citizens. There’s always a high demand for speakers of foreign languages, from engineers to teachers.

In particular, highly-skilled people fluent in languages spoken by traditional migrant communities in the UK, are much sought after.

The labor force in the UK reached 32.41 million in 2018. London, despite unemployment above the national average (4.9% compared to 4% in 2018), is where most people in the UK work.

Are You Eligible to Work in the UK?

Before you think about the best ways to get a job in the UK as a foreigner, you should make sure you’re eligible to work there. Your eligibility for working in the UK as a foreigner and how you apply for a visa depend partly on where you’re from. If you’re from a European Economic Area (EEA) country or a Swiss national, you can work. If you’re from Bulgaria, Romania, or Croatia, you might need to apply for permission.

If none of the above apply to you, you might need to apply for a visa and a work permit before you can work. There is specific information about applying for a visa based on where you’re from. If you’ve already been offered a job, your prospective employer should apply for your work permit on your behalf.

Work permits are issued on a points-based system. If you come to the UK on an expat assignment, a so-called Intra-Company Transfer, or have a job offer, your employer will act as your sponsor.

Can You Speak the Language?

English remains essential for working in the UK. If you need a work permit, English language skills are a must.

For people planning on working in the UK whose English needs brushing up, there are several language schools and British universities which offer language courses, sometimes also available online. Please check the Home Office’s list of approved English language tests that meet the necessary requirements for entry clearance.

Moreover, if you want to live and work in Wales – especially for Welsh national organizations, such as universities – you might find your job opportunities limited if you cannot speak the Welsh language.

Finding Job Opportunities in the UK

Many job vacancies in the UK require applicants to send their CV and a cover letter or fill in a detailed application form. Moreover, jobs in the creative fields often require applicants to send their portfolio – usually electronically.

There isn’t a specific UK-style CV, just customs you should keep to. So, unless a certain style of CV is requested, a variety of formats and designs are generally accepted, as long as you include relevant information about your work experience and education and keep things formal. Nevertheless, sometimes it pays to stand out from the crowd.

How to Apply for a Job in the UK

There are numerous examples of CVs for different jobs online that you can use to guide you, and here are some tips for a successful CV and cover letter.

Curriculum Vitae (CV) Tips

  • It’s standard in UK CVs to put your name, address, and contact details at the top right of the first page.
  • You don’t usually need to include a photograph, but if you do, make sure it’s professional.
  • You can start your CV with a formal greeting, such as “Dear Sir/Madam,” or this can go in your application email.
  • A short introduction before your work experience with a little about yourself and what you’re looking for in your next job is an optional extra.
  • In the first section, write about your relevant work experience in chronological order (your most recent job first).
  • Then write about your education and qualifications – if you went to university, you probably don’t need to include your high school classes and grades. And if you’re not from a country where English is the main language, mention which languages you speak fluently.
  • If you have references, you should include them separately in your application. If you don’t have any references or you don’t want to share them at this stage for whatever reason, you can write ‘References available upon request’ at the end of your CV.
  • For most roles, your CV should be no more than two pages long.

Covering Letter Tips

  • Write a completely new cover letter for each job you apply to as it shows your interest.
  • Using the hiring manager’s name shows you’ve researched the company and could form an early rapport with them.
  • Don’t just repeat your CV. Show why you’re special.
  • Explain what you can bring to the role and the company.
  • Your cover letter can be a little less formal than your CV, depending on the industry – it should show some personality ­– but focus on a good structure and make it easy to understand.

Interview Tips

You’ll likely be familiar with most interview styles you’ll face in the UK. Interviews here are much like in any other developed country but like those countries, every interview is a little different.

You can expect to be asked questions like these:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Tell me about yourself
  • What do you know about us?
  • What are your relevant skills?
  • Do you have any questions?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

What to Wear at a Job Interview

Your outfit should suit the company you’re applying to. If you’re applying to be a lawyer or a policeman, for example, you should dress formally, but if you’re aiming for a job in a creative role, smart-casual clothing is better.

Networking Tips

Networking can also be an effective way to look for a job. Many positions aren’t advertised and getting in touch with your contacts can help you find potential job opportunities.

You should try these websites to make useful contacts in the UK and at UK-based companies:

Best Job Websites

There are a number of quality sources for jobs in the UK. The Guardian newspaper is helpful for skilled job seekers. Many reputable companies advertise there. In addition, it offers an extensive nationwide online job database.

Websites like Jobsin UK advertise local positions for English speakers. Conversely, if you are looking for a local part-time job, a good place to check is the notice board of a library near you or local newspapers and magazines. Also, for people considering working in the UK for a limited time, registering with recruitment agencies could be the way forward.

If you’re searching for jobs in Northern Ireland, please visit JobCentre Online.

Job Opportunities in the UK for Foreigners

  • It’s advisable to look at the United Kingdom Shortage Occupation List to find out which sectors are in demand.
  • There are different ways to look for a job: online databases and the UK’s online service Universal Jobmatch are just two examples.
  • To get a job in the UK, it’s important to get your qualifications and skills officially recognized.

Are Your Skills in Demand in the UK?

The top sectors for expats include computer programming, consultancy, healthcare, and the financial sector. As of November 2015, the main job openings have included positions for software developers, social workers, nurses and paramedics, skilled chefs, and different types of engineers.

Recruitment Agencies

Searching for a job using a recruitment agency might be a good option. You can find the recruitment agency which fits your needs on The Recruitment & Employment Confederation website.

Making It Official: Recognition of Your Skills in the UK

An important part of the job search for expats is getting your professional skills and qualifications officially recognized. Many employers will want to know what the equivalent of your international degree and other qualifications are in the UK before hiring you.

For a fee, the National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) provides comparison statements for expats. The NARIC works on behalf of the UK government.

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Minimum Wage and Average Salary

The average salary in the UK is about 25,303 GBP for women and 30,254 GBP for men, while the National Minimum Wage amount depends on your age and the National Living Wage – which is only available to the over-25s – is 7.83 GBP but will rise to 8.21 GBP in April 2019.

Here are the minimum wage levels for different age groups (in GBP):

Year 21 to 24 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice
From April 2018 7.38 5.90 4.20 3.70
From April 2019 7.70 6.15 4.35 3.90

What is a good salary in the UK?

These are the ten highest-paying jobs in the UK according to Instant Offices Blog:

Average Annual Salary (GBP)
Director of Customer Success 71,680
People Analytics Manager 58,542
Development Operations Engineer 56,259
Data Scientist 56,176
Machine Learning Engineer 54,929
Senior Talent Acquisition Manager 54,482
Computer Vision Engineer 48,754
Full Stack Developer 46,542
Family Solicitor 40,273
Partnerships & Innovation Manager 40,263

Out of these, a family solicitor is probably the most in-demand job, as the supply of related vacancies has grown the least out of jobs in the list, at 128%.

If the above positions don’t interest you, here are some of the average salaries of some more common jobs in the UK, based on data collected by jobs website Glassdoor.

Average Annual Salary (GBP)
Software Engineer 37,400
Teacher 29,500
Accountant 25,300
Nurse 25,800
Architect 46,800
Marketing Manager 42,000
Product Manager 50,000
Web Developer 30,400
UX Designer 40,000

Self-Employment

Before we start on the details, there are some key things to know about UK self-employment:

  • Sole traders are personally liable for any financial losses, while a limited company is a legally separate entity.
  • When taking up self-employment, you need to inform the HMRC, register for Self-Assessment tax returns, and get a National Insurance Number (NINO).
  • A partner in a business partnership doesn’t always have to be a person. It can be another company.

Registering as Self-Employed

In the 2016 Doing Business Report, issued annually by the World Bank Group, the UK ranked sixth for ease of doing business. Nevertheless, if you decide to register as self-employed in the UK, there are things to keep in mind.

You’ll need to do your research on the current market, write a good business plan, and secure enough start-up capital to get your business off the ground.

If you are going to be continuing your previous freelance activities, there are still several steps to take to register as self-employed in the UK.

As more jobs become online-only, people have all the tools they need to start a business, even on a small budget. Here are some of the top self-employed jobs in the UK:

  • Business consultant
  • Marketing consultant
  • Social media consultant
  • Career coach
  • Life coach
  • Writing and editor
  • Blogger
  • Dog walker
  • Personal trainer
  • Property investor
  • Language tutor
  • Yoga instructor
  • Uber/ taxi driver
  • Video editor
  • Graphic designer
  • Photographer
  • Web design
  • Catering

Self-Employed Benefits in the UK

There are many perks to working self-employed but business isn’t always easy and you might need some financial help along the way. Fortunately, in the UK, you can get some support, in the form of the following:

  • Universal Credit (UC): If you’re out of work or a low-earner, you can claim UC, which is being introduced in the UK, replacing six different benefits with a single monthly payment. This payment changes depending on how much you earn, going down if you start earning more.
  • You might be eligible for Child Tax Credit, however, this has been replaced by UC for most people.
  • Child Benefit: You may be able to claim if you have a child under 16 (or under 20 and in approved education or training), your main home is in the UK, and you have permission to live in the UK.
  • If you can’t work because of illness or disability and you have a National Insurance number, you may be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
  • Pension Credit: Guarantee Credit and Savings Credit: If you’re 66 or older, you may be able to claim Guarantee Credit, which helps support you if you’re earning below a certain amount. Savings Credit is an added payment for people who have saved money towards their retirement, such as a pension. You may be eligible if you or your partner are more than 65 years old.

Are You a Sole Trader?

As a sole trader, you work for yourself and run your own business as an individual. This means that you can keep all the profits you make after paying taxes.

It also means that you are personally liable for any financial losses. Sole traders are permitted to hire employees. Make sure to keep good records of anything you buy for your business, as well as all outgoing expenses. Further, you need to send in a Self-Assessment tax return annually and pay self-employed National Insurance and income tax on your profits.

If you’re not sure what your employment status is, use the HMRC’s Employment Status Indicator. You can find more information on how to be self-employed in the UK as a sole trader, such as how to register and your responsibilities, on the UK government’s website.

Your Choice between Sole Trader and Limited Company

Many expats who register as self-employed in the UK set up a private limited company. The advantage of running as a limited company is that your business becomes a legally separate entity, and your personal assets will remain protected even if your business fails.

Another thing to take into consideration when making the choice between setting up as a sole trader or a limited company is tax rates. If your profits exceed the higher tax rate threshold, which was set at 46,351 GBP in 6 April 2018, it is better from a tax standpoint to register your business as a limited company.

How to Incorporate Your Limited Company

A limited company needs a registered office in the UK, at least one director, and at least one shareholder. You must register with Companies House and choose a name for your company. You can check if the name you wish to give your company is already taken using the WebCHeck service offered through Companies House.

To help navigate the legal and financial aspects of registering your limited company, you may wish to hire a formation agent. The Companies House website provides a list of company formation agents and secretarial agents. Once you’ve completed the registration process, you’ll receive a Certificate of Incorporation.

This document serves as confirmation of the legal existence of your company and includes the company number and date of foundation. You can find more about incorporating your private limited company, including all the documents necessary for registration, on the UK government’s website.

Business Culture

UK business culture has its own characteristics, some of which you will have to experience in person before you really understand them. However, most things won’t be a big surprise. Here are some things you should consider:

  • Humor and understatements are often used in British business communication. Therefore, it’s important to read between the lines.
  • While punctuality is important in various aspects of life and business, it’s not as important for social events
  • Business meetings tend to follow an agenda and should be scheduled well in advance

The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and each is proud of its unique heritage. You should, therefore, be careful when referring to your British business associates as “English”.

Business Introductions: Making a Good First Impression

When meeting someone for the first time, it’s polite to shake hands. The British are usually on first-name terms with each other, although it never hurts to let your British colleague take the initiative. Academic titles are not generally used in British working culture, except for medical doctors.

The UK Office Dress Code

The dress code in UK workplace culture is usually fairly conservative, although this depends a bit on the sector you work in and how old your company is. Those in creative fields and start-ups tend to allow their employees to show up for work in “smart casual” clothes unless they are meeting with a client.

More traditional companies, on the other hand, especially in the finance sector, tend to stick to a smart dress code.

If you’re not sure what to wear, dress conservatively. For men, this could mean a dark suit and for women, either a dark suit or a smart dress.

Understanding British Humor, Understatements, and More

Indirectness is a key aspect of communication in British business culture. This is important for you to know when you’re speaking with business associates, but also for you to keep in mind when interpreting the actual meaning behind what British workers say to you.

The British have a strong aversion to creating open conflict, therefore, great measures are taken to remain polite.

Avoiding Direct Statements

Polite phrases are often used to avoid offending the other party. It’s considered rude to directly and bluntly disagree with someone. If you are too direct, you risk being perceived as confrontational, which can prevent a good business relationship developing.

But it is not only enough to avoid making direct statements – it is also vital to be able to read between the lines of indirect language. For example, if you suggest something to your British colleague and get the answer, “Perhaps… that’s an interesting point,” the other party is probably not convinced by your idea.

The Famous British Humor

Humor is also an important tool to master in British business culture. It is often used to lighten the mood and diffuse tension. The British especially like dry or self-deprecating humor.

However, you should also be aware that the use of humor in a business setting doesn’t mean that the situation is not being taken seriously.

The British tend to be reserved and avoid showing strong emotions while doing business. They use indirect speech, humor, and understatement to keep business situations calm and low-key.

Social Security and Benefits

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about how to get a UK social security number (known as a National Insurance number), social security benefits in the UK, pensions, and Universal Credit.

What is Social Security in the UK?

Don’t get confused when you hear about National Insurance in the UK – it’s generally the same as social security. Your National Insurance contributions go towards your State Pension and social security benefits.

Universal Credit

Since 2013, most UK social security benefits are gradually being replaced by a Universal Credit System. Universal Credit is available for individuals over 18 years old (although some 16 and 17-year-olds are also entitled) in certain areas of England, Scotland and Wales.

State Pension

The Universal Credit System is not the only thing to change in the UK’s social security system: people who reached State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016 now receive the new State Pension instead of the basic and additional State Pensions.

If you receive social security in the UK, allowances often depend on your nationality and visa type. In some cases, residents from non-EU/EEA countries might adversely affect their immigration status by applying for financial help.

Means-Tested Benefits

Most benefits are means-tested. Your savings and current income have to be under a certain limit for you to qualify. If you come to the UK for a well-paid new job, and with a financial cushion, most benefits are not available to you.

Nonetheless, the UK social security system can be important for expatriates. Everyone should have an idea of how pensions in the UK work and what happens in case you are let go from your job in the UK.

  • Most of the UK’s social security benefits are being replaced by the Universal Credit System, a process that started in 2013
  • In order to get the full State Pension, you need to have paid 35 years of National Insurance contributions; otherwise, you receive only a pro-rata amount
  • The pensions for citizens from EU and EEA member states are harmonized throughout the EU. You need to apply for a pension in the country you last worked before retiring
  • Non-citizens might be eligible for unemployment benefits too. But please note that this can harm your immigration status if you’re still subject to immigration control

The Universal Credit System: Six Benefits in One Payment

As mentioned before, some of the means-tested benefits in the UK are gradually being replaced by the Universal Credit System. This is going to replace six separate income-related benefits: Housing Benefit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, and Income Support.

People claiming one of these benefits will have to move to Universal Credit eventually. You can claim Universal Credit if you meet the following requirements:

  • You are over 18 but under State Pension age
  • You are not in full-time education or training
  • You do not have savings over 16,000 GBP

Contrary to other benefits, Universal Credit is paid monthly. How much you receive depends on your circumstances and income. The basic standard allowance for a single person over 25 years old is 317.82 GBP a month. On top of that, you may claim additional amounts if you’re eligible.

You may receive additional support on top of your standard allowance for:

  • Your children
  • Childcare costs
  • Disabled or severely disabled children
  • Disabilities or health conditions of your own
  • Caring for a disabled person

The UK Social Security System Over Time

The latest legislation concerning social security in the UK includes the UK Pensions Act of 2011 and the Welfare Reform Act of 2012. These measures have introduced several controversial changes, e.g. regarding UK pensions, disability assessments for people unable to work, or so-called “back-to-work schemes”.

However, British citizens can still claim a variety of financial benefits in times of need. These include Jobseeker’s Allowance and Maternity Allowance.

The UK Pension System: How It Works

UK pensions can be saved for in three different ways. The three basic pillars of British social security for retirees are:

  • State Pensions
  • Company pension plans
  • Private pension funds

Like most other benefits, UK pensions, as provided by the state, are funded by a mixture of contributions from employees, employers, and the government.

Applying for a Social Security Number in the UK

All workers, employees, and self-employed people living in the UK have to pay into the so-called National Insurance funds – provided they earn a minimum income.

If you work for someone else and you earn between 162 GBP and 892 GBP per week, you pay 12% of your earnings to National Insurance. Above 892 GBP, you contribute only 2% of your earnings over this amount. If you don’t fulfill these criteria, you can still contribute on a voluntary basis.

Can a Foreigner Get a Social Security Number?

Yes. Whether you are planning to stay permanently or not, when you start working in the UK, you must get a National Insurance number (NINO). If you are in possession of a biometric residence permit (BRP), your NI number may already be printed on its back.

For your NINO registration, please phone the application hotline once you arrive in the UK (0800 141 2075, Monday-Friday 08:30-17:00 GMT).

The hotline assistants might make you an appointment for a personal interview and tell you what documents to bring, such as:

  • Passport or identity card
  • Residence permit
  • Birth or adoption certificate
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • Driving license

At the interview, you’ll find out how long you’ll need to wait for your National Insurance number and (social security) card.

National Insurance Contributions: How Much You Have to Pay

Once you have your NINO, you are assigned a specific NI class that determines your contributions to the British social security system. Employees usually belong to NI Class 1.

In 2018, you had to pay 12% of your weekly earnings if you earned more than £162 GBP a week. The rate drops to 2% of all earnings over 892 GBP per week.

Self-employed expats fall into both NI Class 2 and NI Class 4. They have to pay a flat rate of 2.80 GBP per week and a certain share of their annual taxable profit. The latter normally amounts to 9% of profits between 8,060 GBP and 43,000 GBP, as well as 2% of all earnings above that limit.

NI contributions – which can be adjusted annually – are automatically deducted from your salary. They are used, among other things, to finance State Pensions.

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Maternity and Paternity Leave

As a mom-to-be living and working in the UK, you are entitled to maternity leave. Your employment rights will be protected while you stay at home and devote yourself to childcare in the UK.

This means that you are entitled to get your job back when your official maternity leave ends. You can only be made redundant for pressing business reasons, e.g. if an entire branch office is shut down and everyone is let go.

How Long is Maternity Leave in the UK?

All in all, new mothers can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave in the UK. You can start as early as 11 weeks before the due date, though you don’t have to. However, you are legally required to take off two or four weeks directly after giving birth.

Even if they have other provisions for childcare in the UK, like a nanny, most parents will want to spend time with their new-born infant. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working for your employer. You simply have to give eight weeks’ notice before the due date.

Maternity Benefits in the UK

To support new parents with the financial burden of childcare in the UK, there are regulations for paid maternity leave. During a total of 39 weeks, women on maternity leave can claim 90% of their weekly income in the first six weeks, or up to around 136 GBP per week for the remainder of the leave.

However, to qualify for maternity pay from your employer, you have to meet stricter criteria than for taking leave from work:

  • You need to have worked with the same company for at least six months up to the 15th week before the due date
  • You need to provide proof of pregnancy, e.g. a letter from your obstetrician or gynecologist
  • You must give notice 15 weeks or more before your baby is due, preferably in writing
  • You must earn 112 GBP or more per week

However, don’t worry too much if you don’t fulfill all the requirements. The government will help you with childcare in the UK. You can claim maternity allowance, instead of maternity pay, from the company. These benefits are a part of social security in the UK.

Individual company plans can be more generous with time off for family obligations or paid leave for mothers of infants. If you’re lucky, your employer might help out with other options for childcare, e.g. a day nursery in the workplace.

Paternity Leave

If you aren’t a new mom who has just given birth you may still be entitled to time off. For instance, fathers can now claim paternity leave in the UK. You can apply to look after your partner and child after birth and to take care of the child later on.

Ordinary paternity leave includes only one or two weeks after the baby is born. You must give notice 15 weeks before the due date. When your partner has returned to work, you could be entitled to additional paternity leave – for as long as 26 weeks.

However, you must give notice eight weeks before, and you can only start when your child is more than five months old. During that time out reserved for childcare in the UK, your employment rights are under protection.

You will also get paid leave, provided your partner’s entitlement period for maternity pay isn’t over yet. This is known as Shared Parental Leave (SPL). For example, if the mother takes off four weeks before giving birth and 20 weeks afterward, you can then take another 26 weeks of parental leave for childcare in the UK.

However, you will only receive pay for 15 weeks, since the mother can claim a total of 39 weeks’ paid leave.

The eligibility criteria and the amount of money for paid paternity leave are exactly the same as for maternity leave and maternity pay. Some companies may include more generous provisions than others.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: August 01, 2019

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