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Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in the UK

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  • 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.

Getting your head around the UK job market is the first step you should take when searching for new employment. The UK is one of the strongest economies in the world and therefore attracts large numbers of ambitious minds to its workforce. This article will cover all the essential information on how to find a job in the UK, ranging from quick facts, like the number of working days and the average salary, to topics such as visas or work permits, social security, and tips for British style CVs and cover letters.

For those planning on working as self-employed, there are several things to consider, such as the general advantages and disadvantages, and understanding the specifics of UK taxes and benefits should you decide to take this path.

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How To Get a Job in The UK as a Foreigner

Bear in mind that whether you need to apply for a UK visa or not depends on your home country. If you are from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, you will not need a visa or work permit to work in the UK. Although the UK has left the EU, a transition period has been set until the end of 2020—for now, the rules will remain the same. It is advisable to apply to stay in the UK as soon as possible via the EU Settlement Scheme for pre-settled status. For more information on  UK Visas and Work Permits visit our Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements.

Now, let’s do a deep dive on how to get work in the UK

How to Apply for a Job in the UK as a Foreigner

First things first: Once you find a job you are interested in, you will need to fill out an application form and/or send a UK-style CV (resume). Keep it relatively short, clear, and neat, and use a heading.

How to Write a UK-style CV

  • Contact Details: The top of the page of your CV should contain your name, professional title, and contact details. Do not title it with ‘curriculum vitae’ or ‘CV’. Treat your name as the title instead. Do not include a photo, your age or gender. UK law prohibits employers from asking for these details.
  • Employment History: Starting with your most recent position, include company name, position held, and dates. List your main responsibilities and/or achievements related to the job you are applying to.
  • Education: Starting with your most recent qualification, include university name and details, dates, courses taken with grade. Add relevant awards, and internships.
  • Secondary Education: School name and address, dates and grades. If it’s your first job, put education first, then work experience.
  • Skills: These could include computer programs you use well, languages you speak with the corresponding levels of expertise, whether you can drive and what type of license you have, etc.
  • Interests and Achievements: Include them if they are relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • Referees: At the end of your CV, add the names and details of two people who can provide you with a reference to support your application. Remember to ask them first. Your potential employer might call them or request by email information about you.

Cover Letter Tips

The first thing you need to do before you start writing is to do research. Think about who will be receiving and reading your letter, the company culture, the sector and any recent trends, their competitors, the organizations’ aims, and the skills mentioned in the job description.

To achieve a UK-style cover letter follow these local conventions:

  • Keep it short, formal, and concise.
  • Write the addressee’s name and details correctly and state the job you are interested in. Only use “Dear Sir or Madam” if you really can’t find out their name.
  • Explain why you are applying to the job and what interests you about your potential employer and/or company.
  • Let them know how your skills and experience will contribute to their mission.
  • At the end, finish with “Yours sincerely”, and sign above your printed name. If you don’t know their name, sign off your letter with “Yours faithfully” instead.

Interview Tips

If your potential employer likes your CV and cover letter, you will go through to the second phase of the process. In this scenario, you will find these advice useful:

  • Prepare yourself by researching your potential employer and the business sector it belongs to. Make sure you have your CV fresh in your mind to answer questions.
  • Dress appropriately. We all have a personal style but try your best to not look out of place. Properly research your potential workplace first and see what the company culture is like. For example, you could go to the website look for staff photos to see what people are wearing.
  • Be on time! In the UK, being on time is important, and arriving late to a job interview will usually be perceived as a bad sign. Make sure you arrive five minutes early, so you have time to compose yourself.
  • Use a firm handshake and wait to be seated.
  • Be friendly, engage in small talk as needed.
  • Smile; make eye contact with all interviewers. Making the right amount of eye contact in an interview is important. According to UCLA professor and researcher Albert Mehrabian, 55 percent of messages processed by the brain are based on body language. This means that in an interview your eyes become the window into your level of interest level, confidence and professionalism.
  • Ask for clarification when needed.
  • Answer fully and engage in honest discussion but be polite.
  • Interviewers ask different types of questions, but there are some that frequently come up. They may ask you about strengths/weaknesses, what you expect of your future self, why they should choose you, why you are leaving your current position etc. Be prepared for these types of questions.
  • Speak about previous employment politely; do not be overly critical of former employers.
  • Make sure to ask meaningful questions. What you choose to ask your interviewer should stem from what you genuinely need to know to properly evaluate the position. For instance, you could ask about what the day-to -day responsibilities of the role are like, what are the company values, what they consider the biggest challenges of the position, etc.
  • Thank your interviewer for their time when done.

Job Opportunities in the UK for Foreigners

The UK has the third largest economy in Europe and an unemployment rate of 3.9% in January, 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. In total, there are just over 3.5 million foreigners working in the UK. Interestingly, while there were around 75,000 more non-EU nationals working in the UK in the last year, the number of EU nationals working in the country decreased by 86,000 in the same period.

In term of fields with more opportunities, jobs in science and engineering are in demand and those in hospitality and retail have high turnover. You can check job availability and industry shortage areas on UK government websites.

Minimum Wage and Average Salary

The average annual salary in the UK is around 36,000 GBP (47,000 USD). The minimum wage per hour depends on the worker’s age. For instance, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) is for those aged 16 to 24 and it’s the minimum pay per hour almost all workers are entitled to. On the other hand, the National Living Wage (NLW) is higher and it’s for workers aged 25 and over.

APRIL 2020

25 & over GBP 8.72 (USD 11.40) 21- 24 GBP 8.20 (USD 10.70) 18-20 GBP 6.45 (USD 8.40) Under 18 GBP 4.55 (USD 5.90) Apprentice GBP 4.15 (USD 5.40)

What is a Good Salary in the UK?

Everyone has a different idea of what a good salary is, so it will all depend on the standard of living you’re used to. To give you an idea, the most recent data from HMRC shows that the median average pre-tax income is around 22,400 GBP (29,350 USD). And, an income of over 70,000 GBP (91,700 USD) a year will actually put you in the top five per cent of all UK earners.

What are the Most In-Demand Jobs and How Much do they Pay?

According to the Visa Bureau of the UK, the most sought-after jobs are in the areas of engineering, health, arts and entertainment, and some teaching positions (such as foreign languages). The following are some examples of popular jobs and their respective annual salaries:

  • Teacher: ranges from 24,300 GBP (31,500 USD) to 121,700 (157,000 USD), depending on years worked and location.
  • Accountant: 62,000 GBP (80,000 USD).
  • Nurse-: 23,000 GBP (30,000 USD). With bonuses and other compensation, this number increases to 34,000 GBP (44,000 USD).
  • Software Engineer: ranges from 38,000 GBP (49,000 USD) to 79,000 GBP (100,000 USD), depending on experience level.
  • Architect: 27,000- 35,000 GBP (35,000 – 45,000 USD)
  • Marketing Manager: 35,000- 39,000 GBP (45,000- 50,000 USD), depending on experience.
  • Product Manager: 55,000 GBP (71,000 USD) in London.
  • Web Developer: ranges from 19,500 GBP (25,000 USD) to 62,000 GBP (80,000 USD), depending on experience.
  • UX Designer: 62,000- 87,000 GBP (80,000 – 113,000 USD), depending


For those looking to work independently, there are several things to consider regarding UK self-employment. Firstly, if any of the following statements are applicable to you, then you will be classified as a sole trader or self-employed.

  • You run your business for yourself and are responsible for its success or failure;
  • have several customers;
  • are able to determine how, where and when to work;
  • charge an agreed fixed rate for your work;
  • are able to hire people and pay them to help you or to do the work for you;
  • provide the main equipment for the job
  • are ultimately responsible for dealing with any unsatisfactory results; and/or
  • sell goods or services for a profit (including online)

How to Be Self-employed in the UK

If you want to be self-employed or start a business in the UK as a foreigner, there are some basic steps that you should follow.

  1. Make sure that you can legally take this path.

This means that you will need to confirm that your immigration status allows to work for yourself in the UK. If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, and you relocate before the post-Brexit transition period (until December 2020), then you will be able to move to the UK and become self-employed. Otherwise, if you relocate after or are not from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, then you must make sure you have the required visa and work permit. You can check out all the information you need on this topic in our Visa and Work permit section.

  1. Structure a business plan

Don’t just throw yourself into it without figuring out whether your business ideas have the possibility of s쳮ding. You will need to do serious research about the market and also develop budget forecasts. You can download free business plan templates on the UK government website.

  1. Define your business legal structure

Will you be a sole trader, form a partnership, set up a limited company or will you do freelance work? All these options carry a different set of responsibilities and procedures.

  1. Determine a business name and address

You can use your own name if you will register as a sole trader or freelancer. You will need an address uponregistering your UK business for tax purposes and joining the company register. Only limited companies haveto register their name. But if do not want anyone else trading under the same name, you can register even if you do not set up a limited company.

  1. If you are establishing a Limited Company

You will have to appoint directors. Only one director is required, but there is no limit to the number of directors you can appoint. You will also have to designate a company secretary. On top of this, you will need to apportion a certain number of shares to each shareholder. Only one shareholder is required, but there is no upper limit. Moreover, you will have to write your memorandum and articles of association, and open a separate bank account.

  1. Register with HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs)

You will need to register your UK business with HMRC for tax purposes. Limited Companies have to register with Companies House. The cost is 12 GBP (15.50 USD) if done online and 40 GBP (51.50 USD) if done by post.

  1. Confirm whether there are any additional rules for your type of business in the UK.

Depending on the nature of business, you might need to fulfil extra requirements. For example, you might need a special license or permit (e.g. sell alcohol, sell in a street market, etc.).

Top Self-employed Jobs in the UK

If you decide to work for yourself, you will be interested to know which are the three top self-employed jobs in the UK (in 3 top locations):


  • Marketing Consultants
  • Social Media Consultants
  • Make-up artists


  • Social Media Consultants
  • UX Designers
  • Marketing Consultants


  • Teachers/Tutors
  • Graphic/Web Designers
  • Account Managers

Self-employment Benefits in the UK

Working independently is a risky but rewarding decision, the top self-employment benefits in the UK are:

  • A better work/life balance.
  • Working hours flexibility.
  • Additional tax deductions.
  • Setting your financial worth.

Moreover, the UK has government-backed schemes for financial advice and also to obtain funding. You can contact the following helplines free of charge:

Business Support Helpline (England) Telephone: 0300 456 3565 Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm

Business Gateway (Scotland) Telephone: 0300 013 4753 Textphone: 0800 023 2071 Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Business Wales Helpline Telephone: 0300 060 3000 Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:30pm

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Business Culture

UK business culture is guided by the principles of punctuality, discipline, courtesy, and politeness. The British do love a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, which is sometimes brought into the business sphere. Although the country working culture is considered less hierarchical than in most European countries, decision-making is usually made from the top down. However, nothing is suddenly imposed on employees; instead, decisions are generally presented in the shape of guidelines.

What is the Dress Code Culture in the UK?

The UK workplace culture dress code is rather formal. Quality and appropriateness are appreciated: suits for men and suits or dresses for women. Many places have adopted more casual looks for Fridays, but in general it is better to be over than under dressed. This said, business casual attire or simply casual clothing are accepted in less formal sectors (e.g. creative industries, web companies, etc.).

UK Working Culture Useful Tips:

  • Brief and firm handshakes are the most common form of greeting for both genders.
  • To break the ice, it is common to start meetings with small talk. Bear in mind that it is not recommended to talk about personal topics.
  • The British are masters of indirect communication and euphemisms. When they disagree with you or need to say something that may be considered negative, they will most likely resort to vague and indirect statements. For instance, “I hear what you say,” may not mean exactly that, but rather “I disagree and we should change the topic;” “that is a brave way of going about it”, might actually translate to “you are out of your mind;” and “maybe we could consider other options,” could actually mean “I don’t like what you’re proposing”. Be mindful of these cultural norms. If you are too direct, you might come across as rude.

Social Security and Benefits

The UK has 5 principal social security schemes in place.

  • National Insurance (NI): provides financial assistance in case of sickness, unemployment, death of a partner, retirement, among others. You are entitled to these benefits if you pay National Insurance contributions.
  • National Health Service (NHS): provides medical, optical and dental treatment. It is generally free to people who ordinarily reside in the UK.
  • Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit: provide cash benefits for people who are raising children.
  • Non-contributory Benefits: for certain disabled people or carers.
  • Other statutory payments made by employers to employees: maternity, paternity, and adoption leave, among others.

What is the Social Security Number in the UK?

In the UK, a social security number is called the National Insurance number (NINO). If you are working in the UK, you must pay National Insurance, it is illegal not to. You pay National Insurance (NI) contributions to become eligible for pensions and other benefits, such as insurance in the face of illness or loss of a job. Some of the most common NI benefits in the UK are:

  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Support/Reduction
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Can a Foreigner Get a National Insurance Number?

Yes, in fact it is mandatory for people who relocate to the UK for work to get one. Check your Biometric Residence Permit, as you may have already been assigned one.

How Do You Get a National Insurance Number?

To apply for a National Insurance number in the UK is you must:

  • already be in the UK;
  • have the right to work or study in the UK;
  • contact the NI application line.

NI number application line (England, Scotland, and Wales)

Telephone: 0800 141 2075

Textphone: 0800 141 2438

Monday to Friday: 8:00 – 18:00

NI number application line (Northern Ireland)

Telephone: 0300 200 3500

Textphone: 0300 200 3519

Monday to Friday: 8:00 – 20:00

Saturday: 8:00 – 16:00

After you apply, you will get a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) inviting you to an interview at a Jobcentre Plus (government-funded employment agency that provides working-age support services in the UK). In the letter, you will be informed which specific identity documents you shall bring with you to the interview.

Can You Work Without a NI number?

You can start work before your NI number arrives if you are able to prove to your employer that you have the right to work in the UK. You should inform them that you already applied for one.

Do you Need a National Insurance Card in the UK?

You don’t need a card, you only need to have an NI number. Memorize it, save the official paperwork, or write it down somewhere safe, in case you forget it. It will also be written in your payslips.

Maternity and Paternity Leave

In order to qualify for maternity leave you must have been working for at least six months under the same employer. How long is maternity leave in the UK? Mothers are entitled to 52 weeks off work and they will get pay for 39 of those weeks if they are eligible. Women are not obligated to take the entire 52 weeks, but they must take the first two after the birth of their child.

Maternity Benefits in the UK

While on maternity leave, women are entitled to the same rights they normally get at work (paid holiday, pension payments and rights, among other employee benefits). In terms of pay, Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks. You will get paid just as you normally do at your job (e.g. monthly or weekly), with the corresponding tax and National Insurance deductions.

During your leave, you will get:

  • For the first six weeks: 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax).
  • For the next 33 weeks: GBP 148.68 (USD 160) or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Paternity Leave and Benefits

For fathers, the benefits are not as many. Men who qualify will get one to two paternity weeks’ leave or pay, but not both. However, couples can decide to apply for Shared Parental Leave, which gives them the possibility of sharing up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay during the first year of their child’s life.

  • Should you and your partner decide to take shared leave, you will be entitled to Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), which is GBP 148.68 (USD 160) a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.
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