I’ve been slacking lately, I’ll admit it. I haven’t made a blog post in over 2 weeks. All I can say is that I have good reason.
I recently accepted a place in grad school—a master’s program in Nineteenth-Century Studies at King’s College London. I’ll be moving to London in September. !!!
I’ve already lived in London of course, but 6 months just seems so much shorter than 1 full year. And it requires a considerable amount of extra planning and paperwork—paperwork that my university did for me last time. So I’ve been doing research, and thought I’d share some tips and facts I’ve discovered. If you are considering/planning a move to the UK, I hope this will be helpful.
1. Most importantly, you need a visa.
Rules are very strict for entering the UK with a plan to work, study, or stay for more than 6 months. There are different kinds of visas available for different kinds of situations. I’ll be getting a student visa. This requires the university to send in some paperwork to the UK government, stating that I have been accepted, that I will be doing full-time study, and that my study is a ‘progression’ from previous study I’ve undertaken. This last point is to prevent people from staying in the UK and studying for several bachelor’s degrees, just as an excuse to stay in the country. Other visas are for specific types of professions (artists, actors, musicians can usually get into the country if they can prove they have money to support themselves, and/or are of sufficient cultural standing), workers that the UK is in need of (this used to be tech workers, but I’m not sure there are currently any categories that this applies to.), investors (with over £200,000 to invest). There are some others for specific nationalities or other categories. None of these are easy to get, as the system is designed to only accept people who will undoubtedly be able to support themselves, i.e., people who will not go on the dole once they get in. Just a note — currently these rules apply to everywhere in the UK, to my knowledge, but often Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland have different policies, so be sure to do some research. I especially have no idea what rules will apply if Scotland becomes independent during the upcoming referendum.
2. Housing. Once you’re legally allowed to immigrate, where are you going to live?! If you’re a millionaire, you can head to Foxton’s or Sotheby’s to find your ideal Regency-era townhouse or converted stables with granite everything.
If you’re not a millionaire (or only have a paltry £1-2 million), you can look at rentals or for-sale homes on Rightmove, Home.co.uk, or Primelocation. Here is a list of a few others. If you’re a plebeian like me, I suggest Gumtree or Craigslist (UK). They offer rooms, houses, or flats for rent or sale. Most universities offer accommodation, particularly for international students. They also usually have partnerships or databases with information on local housing/rental companies that can help students find a place to live. Obviously everything in and around London is approximately 3,000 times more expensive than everywhere else in the UK. Some important things that may not be common knowledge to non-Brits:
- Flat = apartment
- Bedshare = a rented bedroom. Generally has a shared bathroom in the hallway.
- Rent is often calculated and advertised at a weekly, rather than monthly rate. This is sort of crummy, because in months with 5 weeks, you pay extra than you would at a monthly rate.
- If the flat has a washer/dryer, it is probably an all-in-one, and it is probably in the kitchen.
- Do not expect an American-sized refrigerator. Expect a small one, like university kids have in their dorms.
- WC = water closet = loo = bathroom
- If you watch TV (on a TV or computer), you must pay a TV license, of about £150. More info on TV licenses here.
3. Pets! Who leaves without their pets? Me, technically. My cat will be staying behind with my boyfriend, because I’m (hopefully) going to live in the dorms. But, for anyone who is getting a house or flat, here’s what you need to know about bringing your furry friends:
- It is much easier now to bring your pets (from approved countries), but you still need a pet passport and need to meet the criteria. See information on the process here.
- Here is a list of inoculations and ID chip details you will need to get done.
- Some breeds or types of pets are not accepted in the country, or in specific areas.
- For pets that are not dogs or cats, more info here.
- Make sure you do everything to the letter. Or they will come and take your pet away from you.
- If you want to adopt a pet once you’re in the UK, here are a lists of shelters and rescues. Don’t buy a pet; rescue one! Or two!
4. Money, banking, credit cards, and taxes. I’m hoping you realize this already, but the UK currency is GBP (£). The current exchange rate is approximately $1.69 to £1 or 1.22 Euro to £1. Also note that Scotland actually has its own bank notes. They are accepted throughout the UK, and £ are accepted in Scotland. But you might get Scottish change back for a purchase made there, so be aware.
- UK banks and credit cards. There are several major banks in the UK, with the most ATM (cash machines, as they call them) and branch locations throughout. These are HSBC, Lloyds, Halifax, Barclays, & The Royal Bank of Scotland. These will probably be the easiest to deal with, particularly if you plan on traveling throughout the UK, or have an account in one of their US branches. This site compares different credit card deals–be sure to read the fine print! According to this site, there are some problems setting up a bank account or credit card in the UK–more so than in the US anyway. Still, all you can do is go in and ask questions, and see what they can do.
- US banks and credit cards. If you are coming for a short time, you can probably live without any UK accounts. I did, when I lived in London for only 6 months. There are two potential fees involved with these. ATM fees – I was charged ATM fees and currency exchange fees by my bank, so this was expensive and I tried not to do it often. The other big fees are from credit cards. Be sure to check your credit card policies to determine whether it will charge extra fees when you use it abroad. Mine didn’t, so I used it for everything, and then paid the bill online, taking the money from my US account. That was the easiest way to live without a UK account. One downside to this: UK credit cards generally have an embedded microchip (called chip and pin), and American cards don’t, so it may take longer for transactions to go through, and may not work at all in certain places. You may also have to explain to cashiers that it is not a chip and pin card. Also, very important: notify your US credit and debit cards that you are traveling or moving abroad. International purchases are generally declined unless you have notified your card beforehand.
- Taxes. Here is some info specifically for Americans working in the UK. If you don’t have income in the UK, you don’t need to ‘pay’ tax. If you’re there traveling, you can even get VAT (sales) tax refunds. But if you do work in the UK, expect to have more taken out of your checks as the year progresses, because they have a system of pay-as-you-earn. Also, their tax year begins and ends in early April; they don’t use a calendar year. All that being said, your employer should help you with this stuff, and I would recommend having a professional manage any tax issues, because …honestly it’s hard enough to sort through US tax info, let alone a totally different system. Also, FYI: being paid monthly is the norm. I hope you can stick to a budget!
Okay. Thus endeth part I of this large tome. Next post will concern transport, shopping, shipping, and miscellaneous. If any of these details are wrong or incomplete, let me know! I want the right info, both for myself and for anyone who reads this.