So, you’ve finally arrived in the UK with your visa in one hand and a suitcase full of dreams in the other. You found somewhere to stay already, perhaps you’re renting temporarily whilst you look for a more permanent situation? There are so many things to do and sites to see now that you’re living in the UK. the chances are you’re already feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Well, Adaobi Reads… has got your back. We’ve put together our top recommendations of tasks you should ideally sort out during your first week in the country. You don’t have to complete them in the order below, but you may find it useful to do so. So, make yourself a cup of tea, and let’s get started!
Pick up your BRP
The Biometric Residence Permit is an extremely important immigration document. It’s issued to visa holders who’ll be living in the UK for more than 6 months. You’ll need one in order to open a bank account, and to prove your right to work and/or study here.
Most people moving to the UK will have applied for their BRP before they left their home country. If that’s what you did, you’ll get a decision letter confirming where to pick it up, and giving you up to 10 days to do so. Collection points are commonly post offices. But, your decision letter should detail the exact location. If your designated post office is closed – e.g. due to Covid – the UK .gov website says the post office will simply hold on to your card until the post office branch opens again. If, you need to travel abroad urgently, or you have some other time-sensitive need, it’s worth getting in touch with the Home Office using its online reporting process.
Many international students are also required to register with police within 7 days of arriving into the United KingdomStudy International News (2018)
Open a bank account
Using a foreign bank account for everyday living in the UK can quickly become expensive. There may be charges for paying in a foreign currency. You’re new British employer will probably require details for an account that can accept GBP sterling (aka £££). Things would be much simpler with a UK bank account.
Before you depart for life in the UK
Did you know that it’s possible to arrange for a British bank account to be opened from your home country? There are a number of banks that have corresponding British counterparts, meaning they’re able to arrange for a current account to be opened, for a fee. Some banks, like HSBC and Barclays also offer international accounts that will let you access multiple currencies.
But, let’s assume that you don’t have the 2-3 months lead time required to set up and activate such an account, before leaving for your new life abroad. It’s still possible to open a current account once you’re living in the UK.
Once you arrive in the UK…
…WITH proof of address
If you haven’t set things up before you arrived in the UK, that’s not a problem. Just take your passport and proof of address e.g. a UK utility bill or tenancy agreement, into a bank branch. International students can get an appropriate letter from their university in lieu of proof of address. In the same way, if you have a job lined up, you might be able to get your UK-based employer to write a letter vouching for you – again, in place of the expected proof of address. There’s actually a government-maintained list of approved employers who can act as sponsors in this way. Look through the list to see if your new employer is on it. As long as the letter you present to the bank is less than three months old, then you’re good to go.
… NO proof of address
Alternatively, if none of the above are valid options, you might wish to open a UK account with an online bank, such as Monzo. You still need a UK address where your cards and documents can be sent (to bank with Monzo). But, technically, that address could be for your temporary AirBnB digs. Other online banking companies to consider include: Transferwise and Monese. I use Transferwise myself, and particularly like how easy it is to receive, send and pay with a range of different currencies. I haven’t used Monese. But, it doesn’t require proof of address, which is useful for people who have only just arrived to the UK.
Finally, if all of that sounds like too much work. There are paid services that can set up an account entirely for you. From just £45 (at the time of writing) Britbound will sort out a new current account using their office address. You can also pay extra for a UK mailing address, and they’ll let you know when they have mail to forward on, or for you to collect in person. Handy.
Set up your utilities
Water and Energy
If you will be responsible for paying the utility bills in your new home, then the very first thing you should do is to take photos of your water and energy meters. And, I do mean as soon as you have closed the front door behind you. You’ll need this info when setting up new accounts, and more importantly, it will stop you from being charged for any utilities that were used before you actually moved in. Unfortunately, this overzealous billing does happen on occasion!
Find out which companies currently supply the water, gas (if you have that) and electricity to your property. Your landlord, estate agent or fellow tenants should be able to tell you. Alternatively, you can find out your gas supplier online. For electricity, you can contact the electricity distributor for part of the country you live in. A quick Google will give you a list of their numbers. But, I’ve handily included most of them in the table below:
|UK Region||Distribution co.||Phone number|
|London / South East||UK Power Networks||0845 601 5467|
|South of England||SSE Power Distribution||0800 048 3516|
|North Scotland||SSE Power Distribution||0800 048 3515|
|Central + Southern |
|SP Energy||0330 1010 300|
|North East England |
|Northern Powergrid||0800 011 3332|
|Northern Ireland||Northern Ireland Electricity||03457 643 643|
Whilst it’s usual for just one water company to serve your area, there are many, many gas and electricity suppliers to choose from in the UK. Do some research online to find out who will give you the cheapest tariff. You can do that easily by using a price comparison site like Compare the Market or U Switch. You’ll need to know who your current supplier is, and you’ll need to take note of your meter numbers – these are printed on the meters themselves.
Take a look online to compare the packages available via the different internet providers serving your area. Sites like Money Supermarket and U Switch will show you a range of deals. But, don’t forget to take a look at Hyperoptic too. It’s a newer player on the market and so is only available in certain cities. But, you can get speeds up to 1 Gbps, great for gamers and people who stream, or download, a lot of content.
Get a UK phone number
Once you are living in the UK, it will be much cheaper for you to make calls in the country if you have a UK phone number/sim card. A monthly mobile contract might be difficult to get, since you won’t have a credit history in the UK yet. But, there’re are also pay-as-you-go (pre-paid) sims. Have a research online to get a feel for what the best UK phone network will be for your needs. From Three (which I’m on) to EE. But, don’t forget less traditional networks, like Giffgaff. It’s relatively inexpensive because of its lightweight operating model.
Set up your council tax
Council tax is a type of property tax, collected by local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. It pays for things like the police and fire services, fixing public roads and the collection of your household rubbish. When you sign a tenancy agreement and move into your new home, it’s your responsibility to contact your local council to register for council tax. Only adults 18 years old and over are eligible to pay the tax. And, the good news is there are some significant discounts for certain living situations. For example, if you’re the only adult in your home, you’re entitled to 25% off. Households made up entirely of full time students get a 100% discount. You still have to register with the council, but such students won’t have to pay a penny! For more information about exemptions visit the UK .gov website.
Begin looking for your long-term home
Assuming that you are living in temporary accommodation, you should start the search for a longer-term home as soon as possible. Some property markets, like London, can be more fast-moving than other places in the UK. So, it will pay dividends to put in the research now and to physically explore some of the areas you’re considering. If you’re looking to share a property to keep costs down, and potentially make new friends, then Spare Room is a good option. If you’d prefer to live on your own and/or to buy something, Zoopla will give you a good idea of what’s available for your budget.
Say hello to the neighbours
This might be the West Country girl in me… but, I almost always take the time to introduce myself to my immediate neighbours when moving into a new place. It’s a friendly thing to do in and of itself. But, it’s also a strategic power move. You can take in packages for each other, if no one’s home to greet the postman etc. And, if there is ever a problem – say loud music, or constant barking from their dog – it’s much easier to have a conversation about it with a neighbour you took the time to acquaint yourself with in the good times. So, go round and say hello to your neighbours. Or, better yet, invite them over for a cup of tea.
Buy a TV licence
This one can catch out people who are new to the UK. If you watch or record live TV, or download/watch content via BBC iPlayer, then you must have a TV licence. At the time of writing, the licence fee is £157.50 for the year. You can pay for that in one go, or in installments. The licence can be purchased easily enough online. If you watch or record live TV without a licence, you’re at risk of a £1,000 fine. And, if you’re employed by a public service broadcaster, you’re also risking your job.
Register with a doctor and a dentist
It’s best to register with a doctors’ surgery early on – certainly before you’re feeling unwell, at any rate. You can find your GPs near you by using the ‘Find a GP’ search function on the NHS website. Just enter your postcode and scroll through the list of results, which will be listed in order of those closest to your home. Once you’ve found a couple of likely candidates take a look at some online reviews from actual patients to see whether it’s right for you, like Google Reviews.
Now that you know what GP surgery you’d like to register with, give them a phone call to double-check that their ‘list’ is still open. You need to be sure that they are still accepting new patients before turning up to complete the registration form. Remember to take your BRP with you.
It’s free for UK residents to access most NHS healthcare. And, if you paid an immigration surcharge when applying for your visa (or being declared exempt) then NHS healthcare will be mostly free for you to access too. You’ll still have to pay a prescription fee, for eye tests and for dental treatment. But, a little tip… if you need regular prescription medication, ask your pharmacist about getting a pre-paid prescription certificate. This basically means that you pay small monthly amounts, currently around £11, and each time you go in to collect your medicine you’ll no longer need to pay anything else. Needless to say, getting a pre-pay can save you a considerable amount of money.
If you are a full time international student, you may be entitled to free prescriptions. Ask your pharmacist for an HC2 application form.
Do you know where your local hospital is? Is it open 24/7? Does it have an Accident & Emergency (A&E) room where members of the public can walk-in off the street for treatment? Not all hospitals do in the UK. So, make sure you do your homework so you know where to go in a medical emergency.
You can find your nearest dental surgery using the NHS ‘Find a dentist’ online service. Again, check out some Google reviews to see what current and former patients say about the dental practices you are considering. The cheapest dental treatment will most likely be available at NHS dentists. But, it is quite common to use private dentists in the UK too. You’ll probably want to take out some dental insurance, though, like Denplan.
Get a National Insurance number
If you’re planning on working in the UK, then you’ll need a National Insurance number (NINO). It’s the UK equivalent of an American social security number. The good news is that if you have a Biometric Residence Permit, you may already have a NINO. Take a look at the back of your BRP, and you should see it printed there. If there’s no NINO on the back of the card, then you’ll need to apply for one. Call 0800 141 2075 and you can ask to be sent a National Insurance number application form. There’s also a textphone option, or video relay service for people with accessibility needs.
Begin looking for work
The easiest thing to do is to ask your current company (before you move) whether they would consider allowing you to work remotely. So, once you are living in the UK, there will be less pressure on you to find work immediately. But, if you move over without work, make sure that you have a strong and current CV targeted to the type of role you’re looking for.
Consider subscribing to LinkedIn Premium for the extra insights you get about job vacancies and the ability to cold message people outside your network, who might prove helpful in your job search. Also look for work via sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. Let your network of friends and colleagues know that you’re looking for work. Additionally, physically go to recruitment agencies for your industry. Take them a copy of your CV and build a rapport with one or two people there who can let you know if something appropriate crops up. And, of course, look into remote jobs unconnected to your former employment. I’ve listed some potential sites to explore below: