How to move to the UK

Update: I still get people stumbling on this and asking me about it. The Labour party in the UK has changed immigration laws twice in the past three years, each time making it harder for immigrants to arrive. (Who would have though that the "liberal" party in the UK would turn out to be anti-immigration in additional to Orwellian?) In short, be sure to read the latest laws.

Update 2: I've written a practical guide for emigration. It contains some very concrete suggestions, including if you have few specialist skills which might get you abroad.

I keep getting asked to how move to the UK and I figured it was about time that I present useful information for people. However, I am not a lawyer, nor am I an immigration specialist, so please double-check everything I write. I make no guarantees.

Also, much of the following information applies to any country you want to emigrate to, but there are some UK specific tidbits, hence the title of this post.

First and foremost, you need to be positive you want to do this. Most people brush this off, but the sad reality is, homesickness is a very tough thing to overcome. More than one person on the FBI's witness protection program has been murdered because they took a quick visit home. Think about that -- homesickness is so powerful that people risk death for it. Frankly, I've struggled with it, but I'm lucky to have family and friends over here in the UK, not to mention a stable job.

When I say "positive", I mean that you need to articulate a clear reason why you want to emigrate because that's always one of the first questions potential employers ask. If you say "I hate the political situation in my country", they're going to know darn well that you may very well hate the political situation in their country. Heck, they might admire the US and not hire you just because of your answer. Also, "adventure", while possibly true, is not a good answer as it's extremely vague. If you don't get enough adventure, are you just going to go home? Besides, when you say "adventure", they'll hear "dreamer" and that might not be what you want them to hear. I heavily stressed the fact that I had family in the UK and wanted to be closer to them. Whatever reasons you come up with, make them sound very positive.

Second, do not even think about doing this illegally. If you are caught, not only will you be deported, you probably won't be allowed back and immigration forms for other countries regularly ask if you've been deported from any country. Lying about this pretty much means that you're stuck in your home country.

Third, be very patient. This process takes time and you have to be really dedicated to pursuing it. That might mean building up your resume, waiting a long time for responses from companies you contact, or assessing the laws of other countries you're willing to move to. Myself, I started in January and didn't get approved until April and didn't move until June. That was probably quicker than many others, but the truth is, I've wanted to do this for years. I just knew I had to build my resume to the point where I could get away with this.

Fourth, make sure you've actually been to the country you want to move to , if only for a vacation. Also, do as much research on it as possible. You want to make sure that you can actually function there and employers want to know that, too. Heck, in an interview, if you get one, make comments about their country which are not only both positive, but also show that you've done your homework.

Fifth, relax! Your potential employers are humans (probably). They're just as likely to be new to this situation as you are. It's easy to talk to them and if you have sound reasons for going over and are sincere, they'll probably take you at your word. If they have plenty of experience hiring foreigners, it's easier for them to bring you in, but they also have a better of what questions to ask, so be prepared.

Finally, be picky. If you do get an opportunity but it seems questionable, ask yourself if you would accept it in your home country. If the answer is "no", you should probably move on. When I moved to Amsterdam, I fell in with a company that was failing and had a terribly production environment. I would have turned them down if they were in the US. As it stands, I had three potential employers in the UK and I deliberately chose the employer who was offering the most stable work environment as stability was my biggest criteria for accepting a job.

Now for the strategies:

The easiest way to move to the UK is to fall in love with a British citizen, marry, and move over there. Of course, that's "easiest" in terms of qualifications that you need. It's still up to you to find that Brit and make him/her love you and agree to marry you.

Another possible way to get into the UK is if you qualify under their Highly Skilled Migrant Worker (HSMP) program. This program allows folks who are extremely skilled in their field to live and work in the UK without a work permit! This is great, except for one little problem. You need 65 points or more and this unofficial points calculator will probably show that you won't qualify. It helps if you're young, make more than $70,000 a year, have a master's degree or better, have worked 5 to 10 years in your field and have national or international recognition for your work. Having a spouse with a college degree also helps. If you meet all of those criteria, you still might not qualify and the national or international recognition is hard to achieve. I know of at least one individual who I thought would be a shoe-in yet was turned down anyway.

2007-09-15 Update: The HSMP scheme has changed! This change affects people already on the HSMP and has screwed over many people who have emigrated here. It's now the Highly Paid Migrant Program. Of course, they really don't call it that, but they no longer give a damn if you are highly skilled and recognized. The (mostly) only care if you have a college degree and a fat paycheck. There are people who have given up their entire lives to move to the UK and are now facing deportation because the government has changed the rules on them. It's a bit of a political hot potato right now. It could happen again -- particularly with anti-immigration sentiment growing here.

The traditional way, though, is to apply for a work permit. For the UK (and for most countries, to be honest), you need to start submitting your resume to employers. If an employer offers you a job, they can apply for a work permit for you. You cannot apply for one directly.

To qualify for a work permit, the employer has to have a vacancy for a high-demand job, they have to prove they're a legitimate employer (in other words, not a company created for the sole purpose of bringing your sorry ass to the UK), they really need that position filled and that they could not find a single person in the entire European Union (well, EEA, actually, but that's a long story) who could both fill that position and was willing to do so. They even have to prove that they appropriately advertised for that position. If they fulfill all of those criteria, then you have to be able to prove that you're qualified to do that job!

However, if a company is willing to offer to sponsor you, you're probably good to go. The trick is to get a company to be willing to sponsor you. Here are a few suggestions.

First, you need to be somewhat recognized as an "authority" in an area generally related to what you do. There are several ways to do this. For myself, I simply started hanging out on Web sites and started answering programmer's Perl questions. Eventually I was confident enough in my skills that I managed to get a couple of articles published and somehow wound up with my name on the cover of a book. That coupled with a strong resume made it somewhat easier.

One thing which can't be emphasized enough is getting your name out there. If a potential employer asks one of their employees if he/she has heard of you, a resounding "yes" is a strong point in your favor, unless it's followed up by "and that person's a jerk", so make sure you are very considerate online. I know of a few well-known Perl programmers I would not hire simply because they're obnoxious online, despite the fact that I'm told one of them is a real sweetheart in person. Heck, use Google to search for yourself online. You might be awfully surprised at what you find (apparently I'm a Sewage Authority Executive Director. If you've seen some of my code, maybe you'd agree.)

What this boils down to is an employer picking up your resume and seeing something on it that the other resumes don't have. "Published articles" is great (and easy -- magazines are often desperate for content). "Patents" are hard, but also great. Participation in well-known open-source projects is probably better than being the author of unknown open-source projects. Listing your "speaking gigs" is also a plus. In other words, you need something that makes you stand out from the crowd.

If an employer does sound interested in hiring you, make it easy for them. If they don't know how to apply for a work permit, give them direction. If you're willing to sell all of your stuff so they don't have to ship it, tell them that. If you own a home, how are you going to deal with that? In sales, these are known as "objections" and you must anticipate and overcome them all.

There's a lot of legal documentation you will need to fill out. Make sure you visit the British government Web sites and download everything you think is pertinent to your situation. Then make sure you can get all of the supporting paperwork beforehand (letters from former employers, passport (duh), higher education degrees, and so on). This will save you a lot of time and trouble.

I should mention that these are not the only ways to get to the UK, but they're the most common. There are programs for artists, writers (I'm lookin' at you, pdx42), professional athletes, domestic help (rich people can bring their butlers), retirees, and so on. Do some digging and figure out how to make it happen.
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Nice job - that seems to pretty much cover Australia as well and from what I can tell Canada and NZ.

There are a couple of other things I would suggest.

If at all possible (and it's often not) think about going for permanent residence immediately. Either way, shoot for permanent residence as soon as you can, even if you're not planning to stay for the rest of your life. It should go without saying that it's a life changing experience and you do not want to get settled into a country only to be forced to leave again.

If you're heading for the US it's a similar process but much, much harder and for permanent residence a much longer process - Green Cards are coming at about 3 - 5 years depending on circumstances.

Coming over with an employer sponsoring you is definitely an easier option but it's very important that you understand the terms and conditions of your employment as it relates to your staying in the country. If it's an employer in your home country that is moving you over, ensure that you've got your relocation package well sorted out - money is especially difficult. If you can, get a good idea of what it will cost you to establish.

If you are being sponsored by an employer in the country you are moving to ensure you understand exactly how tied into that company you are and how long you have to continue to work for the employer before you can go your own way. A common route in is to move over on a temporary working or student visa then get sponsorship from your employer to go permanent. Remember that if you are in that situation you cannot leave your job until your residence is processed. Remember also that your employer knows this. Find out how committed you are, what your status is if you are laid off and what your rights are.

thank you! it is very helpful as that is what probably I'll be facing in a year time- my student vise will expire and I'll have either to move from here of to get through competition. the last seems almost imposible ((
Nice post. I briefly toyed with the notion of moving to Australia or New Zealand, but that's about it. I'm pretty happy here, but it's good to have a checklist, just in case. :)

BTW, you went from fourth to fifth and back to fourth again. ;)
Well, so far you've been making a pretty good stab at it. It would be great if you were on this side of the pond.
Heh :) That's awesome.

I must say, I'm quite happy hear. I was really braced for some difficult homesickness and while there are certainly people I miss (such as yourself), I don't miss Portland itself as much as I thought I would.

First, you need to be somewhat recognized as an “authority” in an area generally related to what you do. There are several ways to do this. For myself, I simply started hanging out on Web sites and started answering programmer’s Perl questions.

Wait, so doing Perl was just a way for you to get into the UK’s pants?

Heh :) Sure, Perl was just a cheap date for me.

On the off chance that you're asking that question seriously, I can assure you that I am focused on Perl because I love the language and her quirks and I'm not just using her as a means to an end.

The easiest way to move to the UK is to fall in love with a British citizen, marry, and move over there.

The easiest way to move to the UK is to find yourself born in the EEC and then you can just, well, move there. But I digress.

Rather than falling in love, marrying and moving It's slightly easier to fall in love, apply for a fianceé visa (from your home country, not in the UK), and then move over to the and UK and marry them.

Make sure the British citizen you fall in love with has income and/or savings that can support you (having your own source of income will be good at this point too, but remember, a fianceé visa will not allow you to take employment,) and has somewhere for you to live (no, living with their parents will not help your cause.) You'll also need to prove that the two of you have made wedding plans, which will involve a visit to the UK to arange all of that, probably under some tourist visa (or using the waiver, if you're from the states.) You'll also need to apply for Further Leave to Remain (FLR) after you're married, which is the same process all over again, but can at least be done via post, or in person in Croydon for more money if you want to upgrade quickly (because, say you want to go on honeymoon and you can't re-enter the UK on your fianceé visa for a second time.) And after that, you'll be needing Indefinate Leave to Remain (ILR) a couple of years later.

But *hey*, that's just in my personal experience.
Nice article. I'm over here on a 3 year visa working for a Scottish university. Not sure I'm going to try to stay permanently (depends on what the job situation is like in my area next year), but this is useful information.

Had a look at the HSMP page... MBA, under 28, income > $70K, and 5-10 years experience?! Of course, I'm sure the US is no less picky about letting people in.
Hmmm, I wonder if being a Gaelic scholar is specialized enough ...
Hi, there -- I followed the aforementioned link to your discussion here, and just wanted to thank you for it. I'm not likely to move to the UK permanently within the next couple years (I've been living there as a student for the last two, and that's how I'm most likely to return in the short term) - and while I've certainly considered it, I've been a bit intimidated by all the troubles friends have had in moving. It's awfully nice to read a lucid, organized discussion of the process, though - mile taing dhut! (many thanks!)
Re: Hmmm, I wonder if being a Gaelic scholar is specialized enough ...
Glad you liked the write-up! What on earth prompted you to become a Gaeilic scholar? That's sounds great to me, but a terribly difficult thing to do. (Is that the language that even Tolkein gave up on, citing it as too difficult? I could be misremembering).

If you get back to the UK, I'd be quiet curious to know how you managed to turn that trick.
Re: Hmmm, I wonder if being a Gaelic scholar is specialized enough ...
Well, it was a bit of an accident, actually! I'm in the middle of a degree in Folklore back Stateside, and I had never heard of Gaelic before I was about 19 or 20 -- then suddenly I found myself in this class called "Gaelic Women's Poetry," about traditional poetry and folksong. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Glasgow, a bus to the Isle of Skye, a taxi to the Gaelic college (Sabhal Mor Ostaig) on the Sleat penninsula, and Scotland was home! The first year was intensive Gaelic-medium language classes (no English allowed); the second was full of classes in literature, history, etc -- just taught (and assessed) in Gaelic. Great fun, though it's just as well that my thesis (back in the US) is to be written in English.

I haven't heard the Tolkien story -- I know he was interested in the Celtic languages, but I hope he didn't give up on Gaelic! It's not actually all that grammatically complex, just completely different from English. Granted, that makes the first couple months of learning it absolutel hell, but it's such fun once you start having to translate in your head to hold a conversation in English! :)

Oh, and if do get back to the UK, I'll be curious to see how I manage it as well! :) Though I've already got one uncondition offer of full-time work any time I feel disposed to accept it, so who knows what might happen!
I realize it has been a while since you have posted this however I stumbeled upon this post whilst looking up information on London travel. I am from Ohio in america and I am going to be graduating high school in June this year and thus I am looking for colleges to attend. I am very interested in attending a college in the UK! Especally since from what I have read and heard that one may get a better education there. Naturally I know that if I do get accepted into a college in the UK I will need a place to live, a job and etc. I am just curious if there is anything that someone in my situation would need to do? I am not ready to make the choice of being a citizen of the UK and I am saving the money to visit over the summer. But is there anything that I should really pay more attention to other then finding a place to live, a job and wich college I want to attend? What about currency? Was it harder to make ends meet when you moved? I know these questions are perhaps things I should learn on my own but if you could give me a little advice I would be very much obliged! Thank you very much for your time! And your infromation above is marvolous!
Well, the Nottingham University is very popular and it's probably far less expensive than many other options. London's wonderful but as it's one of the most expensive cities in the world, it can be a bit daunting for a college student. Nottingham is about 2 hours from London by train, but the average train prices for me (at the times I travel) are about £45 (around $85), so college students in Nottingham don't go to London much. I only mention this because so many want to visit London only to realize they can't afford to.

I really can't say if it was harder to make ends meet because my profession tends to pay well, so it's not a situation I'm usually faced with, but as a college student, I think you'll be allowed to take a local part-time job and, at the very least, you won't be worse off than locals. That being said, remember that college students are universally poor, so it will be a struggle for you, but no worse than other college students. You'll be living on cheap food in a crap flat, but hey, you'll be in the UK! And if you're like me, that will make up for just about everything else. I used to be homeless, so even a crap flat is wonderful to me, if the circumstances are right.

I'd also recommend the book Living and Working in Britain. It has a few typos, but it's mostly spot-on and it's an invaluable resource when you're trying to figure out stupid things like "how do I get a driver's license?"

The single most important thing is to be very clear as to why you're moving over and to keep that in your mind repeatedly. As someone who has lived in four countries, there's little advice that I can offer that's more valuable than that, even though it might seem silly to some.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on!
Thank you so much for this! I am planning on moving to the UK from The Netherlands, and you've raised some interesting and helpful points. I hope you don't mind that I added you as a friend?
Emigrating to UK with fiancee
How do I go about doing that?
I'm trying to get in by being signed by a UK modeling agency...
If that doesn't work out, school is an expensive, albeit guaranteed way in.
My fiancee however, wants to apprentice as a blacksmith or pyrotechnician in the UK. Would that possible?
publius-ovidius--thanks so much for the post. Clears a few things up and inspires me to pursue my dream of moving to the UK.
Re: Emigrating to UK with fiancee

I'm not an immigration expert and the Labour party has again changed immigration rules. It's not radically different and the principles are the same, but you should still be aware of the rules.

Check out the UK Border Agency Web site for up-to-date information on what the requirements are. Also, a Web search for UK immigration will provide you with a list of useful links, including for-profit agencies who can assist in the immigration process. I've not used them and thus can't vouch for them, but they're worth a shot.

The only really good news is that if one of you can get a work permit and you're married, the other one will probably have a much easier time being allowed to work in the UK. The partner is generally allowed to take any work desired, unlike the permit holder, so be aware of that. Of course, that may have changed recently, too.

I am a british citizen, holding a newzealand passport. moved to the uk after i fell in love and married a brit. My parents and younger brother want to move to uk, so we can all be close to each other? what would be the best way for them to come?

Now that's all set all I have to do is to start making plans. UK immigration policies are more permissive now but still there are some restrictions that need to be considered. Also there's plenty information to any British ambassador, I am sure they also provide support. We're a family of three and intend to make the big move to a new country, we could also use some moving companies services, do you have any information on that? It's a big step but I am positive about it.
What about family?
I would love to move my family there for a yr or two in hopes we fall in love with the UK and stay, but needless to say I will have to work as will my husband, put our three kids in school and rent a home. So what do you suggest? We are looking into Southend by Sea to live.
Re: What about family?
A family means you'll have to do more work and probably find an employer to sponsor you and pay relocation. Otherwise, one spouse might have to scout ahead and you'd have to accept being separate for a while until things settle down. It really depends on how badly you want to move to another country. And why Southend-on-Sea to live? It looks fairly commercial/touristy. Is there a particular affinity for that area?

I've also updated this journal with some information about emigrating in general.
Fiancee Visa
How would I go about or where would I go to file for a fiancee visa? I met someone very special to me about 1.5 years ago and when she came from the UK to the US where I am now, our feelings got stronger so I thought I would take a trip there to see if our feelings was genuine. I was there for 2 months and my thoughts was right. Our feelings grew so strong that it was hard to leave her there while I came back to the states so I want to move there now and be with her so we can start our life together. From all the research I have done, I can see only the fiancee visa being the easiest and fastest route to go. Any info on where or how I can apply would be VERY helpful.

Thanks for any help in advance,
Harry (Brit stuck in the states)