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Visa Requirements for the UK

Expats moving to the UK do so for various reasons. Whatever your motivation may be, your move to the UK holds the advantage that you won’t need to learn a new language from scratch. InterNations has lots of useful information on moving to the UK, from life in London to UK visa regulations.
EU citizens are free to move to the UK without a visa.

Where the Economy Sets the Tone

Due to its heavy reliance on the financial sector, a very limited manufacturing industry, and basically no income from export, the UK economy experienced some major setbacks following the crash of 2008. The Labour government, which was in power at the time, reacted with systematic deficit spending. This led to the 2010 United Kingdom Austerity Programme. Initiated by the first Cameron administration, its original plan was to cut the budget significantly in order to reduce the state deficit. The results were wide-spread job loss across both the public and private sectors, and a tougher, more competitive climate in general.

Ever since the 2008 recession, the British economy has been yo-yoing back and forth. Not surprisingly, the economy continues to be in the spotlight of British politics. The economic tension experienced in the UK has brought into question their relationship with the EU, and, in particular, whether the benefits of such a commitment outweigh the costs for the UK. In 2013 Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledged to hold a referendum regarding the decision to stay in the EU or not and it seems that this referendum will take place in 2017. However, any concrete change will take a lot longer given the complex legal nature of an exit from the EU.  

Immigration is another major topic in British politics at the moment and has been so for a while. The prevalence of the topic insinuates possible hostility towards foreigners moving to the UK, but, having said this, if you move to the UK already having found work, you will likely receive a warm welcome.

Our article on the economy of the UK goes into more detail on the different economic sectors and the disparities thereof among regions.

Crossing the Border — UK Visa Requirements

Everyone entering the UK needs to be in possession of a valid passport. Moreover, nationals of most countries outside the US, Canada, Australia, the EU, and EEA (including Switzerland) are subject to visa regulations. For detailed and up-to-date information, please consult the website of the UK Visa and Immigration department or your nearest British Embassy or Consulate.

Citizens of an EU or EEA member state (including Switzerland) are free to work, study, and live in the UK for an unlimited period of time without a visa or work permit. Other foreign nationals, except Commonwealth citizens, must apply for their visa before coming to the UK.

Students or professionals in a field which does not require a work permit (e.g. journalism, clerical work) should still apply for entry clearance. It will usually be granted if they meet certain requirements such as proof of financial independence and English language skills.

The Many Tiers of Work Permits in the UK

If you are on an expat assignment, you are most likely to fall under the Intra-Company Transfer (Tier 2) visa. Your employer will apply for a work permit on your behalf. Other types of work permits include the Tier 1 categories: exceptional talent; entrepreneur; investor; or graduate entrepreneur. They enable selected applicants to enter or remain in the UK in order to seek employment.

Once you have been living and working in the UK for several years, it is usually possible to apply for residency status in Britain, even if your job changes. Certain exemptions from these regulations apply to citizens of Commonwealth states. More information on this topic can be obtained from your local British Embassy or Consulate.

The British Home Office, or one of its departments, processes all visa and work permit requests. As a general rule, leave plenty of time between your application and your intended date of departure. Your family and dependents should apply for their visa and/or work permit at the same time as you.

For further information on UK visas, work permits, and residence permits, as well as customs and import restrictions, please consult the Visa and Administration section of the UK Extended Guide.

Bringing Your Family Along

The UK is a safe country with good childcare and recreational facilities, a comprehensive school system, and plenty of universities to choose from. In general, British people — despite their reputation of being reserved and aloof — are open and welcoming. A strong community spirit, even in big cities like London, will facilitate the integration process if you are willing to get involved in some neighborly activities.

A special note on pets: under the Pet Travel Scheme, dogs, cats, and ferrets from certain countries are allowed to enter the UK if they have been vaccinated against rabies. Those who do not meet the requirements must spend six months in quarantine upon arrival. If your pet belongs to a rare species, you might also need a conservation license before importing it. More information can be obtained from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

 

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Jan-Peter van Tijk

"I wish I'd found InterNations sooner: It would have made my first few month as an expat in London much less overwhelming."

Therese Yeboah

"For me, the InterNations events are the best part. I attend almost every get-together and always get to know lots of friendly fellow expats."

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