What you need to know as a new migrant in the United Kingdom: A Tier-2 General Migrant Guide

It was November 2018 that I was officially offered a job to take the position of Tech Lead at a well-known company in London; the main point was… I had to relocate to the United Kingdom from Iran and it was a big change for me. Challenge accepted and I decided to move!

I say this because many have asked me before, I found the job on Relocate.me which is a website dedicated to job offers that are usually accompanied by a relocation package from the employer.

Since I started to prepare for this move, I faced a lot of unanswered questions that many of them took some time and energy to find the answer and/or solution. It’s now more than a month that I’ve settled in London and started to work and live in this metropolitan city. I was thinking today that it might be a good idea to share my own experiences with many people who are or will be in the same direction and help them get used to the new life faster. So, here it is! This is my personal experience of this journey.

UK Work Visa

If you’re going to immigrate to the United Kingdom on a work visa, the type of visa you need is called a Tier-2 (General) visa. In order to apply for this type of visa, you need to have a job offer from a company in the UK which has the required license to sponsor you. Not all the companies in the UK can sponsor you, so make sure that the company you’re applying for from abroad can sponsor you. Once you get the offer from an eligible company, that company will apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for you and it will take between 2 to 30 days to be issued by the Home Office. After your CoS is issued you will be provided with a CoS reference as well as your sponsor license number which you will need to apply for your visa. The whole visa application process (including payments for all the expenses) is online and should be done through the Gov.uk website. Your partner (spouse or civil partner) and your children can receive the same visa as your dependants. I recommend you apply as a family at the same time. Once you fill out the online form for all family members, you need to pay two separate fees:

  • IHS fee, which is your healthcare (NHS) surcharge. It’s around £470 per person per twelve months of leave granted at the time of writing. You can calculate this here.
  • Visa fee, that depends on the length of visa you’re applying for (in fact the length that your sponsor has requested in your CoS). It’s pretty expensive compared to other European countries! In my case, it was around £1,200 per person. You can calculate yours here.

You have to pay those fees by a debit or credit card. Your sponsor may accept to pay that for you as a part of your relocation allowance, so ask if you’re eligible for that or not.

Once you submit your online visa application, you will get an appointment (at a British Embassy or VFS Global) to bring your documents and do your biometrics based on the country you live in. I could get an appointment in Tehran, Iran for four weeks after I submitted my application. On the day of my appointment, biometrics and handing over the required documents took about an hour and then, I received my passport (including visa vignette) in 14 days.

The visa you get in your passport (the vignette/sticker) is valid to enter the UK from the given date up to one month. You have to enter the UK during this period and finalize your residency by collecting your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) and registering at the Metropolitan Police Station. Once you get your BRP card it is used as your visa when you want to leave and return to the UK.

Sample BRP picture taken from https://www.ntu.ac.uk/international/your-application/when-you-arrive/what-to-do-when-you-arrive

Arriving in the UK

Upon arriving in the UK you will face a new world and as I told you above, the first thing you need to do is collecting your BRP card and registering at the Metropolitan Police Station. You will receive all the required information on how to collect your BRP and where to register with the police in a letter sent to you when you receive your passport and visa.

Public Transportation

I’m living and working in London, so I can share with you my information and experiences regarding this city only. Transport for London or TfL consists of different forms of public transportation including buses, underground, overground, trains, ferries and etc. The best way to pay for your fare is by buying an Oyster Card and top it up as much as you wish. If you have a contactless debit or credit card (like Visa or MasterCard) you can use that instead and pay the same rates as Oyster Card. Buses are the cheapest among all TfL services, a flat fare of £1.5 for up to 1.5 hours of how many rides is reasonable but don’t forget because of traffic jam in the streets, traveling by bus usually takes longer than subway (tube) or trains (which are more expensive).

If you want to save some money on your daily commute between two particular zones, you may consider buying a seasonal Travel Card too.

If you prefer to pay more for a private ride, you can use London’s famous black cabs or ride-hailing services like Uber, Gett, or Kapten.

London is composed of 9 zones that are shaped like circles around each other.

Applications like Google Map and Citymapper are your friends in finding routes as well as getting up-to-minute information about public transportation schedule right on your mobile phone.

On the other hand, London streets are well-suited for cyclists. If you prefer to ride a bicycle to go somewhere, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, supports you 😁

There are some bike/scooter hire services in London like Santander Cycles, Mobike, Lime, …

Opening a Bank Account

This one is a little tricky as you will need proof of address (in addition to other ID documents that banks ask for) to open an account. Proof of address can be any document like a bank statement, energy bill, or council tax bill. When you don’t have a bank account in the UK, you can’t have a statement as proof of address, so forget this one! Also, you need to get a house to have a bill-type proof of address. If you’re not still settled and need to look for a house, you should find another solution to open a bank account. My own solution was opening an account with Monzo which is an electronic bank without any physical branch. You can download their applications and request to open a current account. What you need is an address in the UK (a friend’s address or the place that you’re temporarily residing) as well as your ID (usually your passport). They will send your debit card in 4–5 days and you can start using it right away.

Getting a house

If you’re going to rent (or buy) a house, the best and quickest way is using online property portals like Rightmove or Zoopla to find a house or flat for yourself. It directly depends on your budget and the region you want to get a house. Keep in mind the distance to your work when selecting a house in addition to other factors you might be thinking of (schools nearby, facilities, etc.). Zones 1, 2, 3 are pretty expensive but you can find a good place in other zones which are an hour far from central London (Zone 1)

Try to find your house through an agent and avoid directly dealing with the landlords. You usually need to pay a deposit of 6 weeks or more in addition to the up-front monthly payment. As of June 1st, 2019 you don’t need to pay any extra charge to the agent or landlord.

As soon as you got the house, get in touch with your local council authority (they usually have a website) and announce your move, they will issue the council tax bill for you and you can use this as a proof of address later.

Don’t forget that you need to notify police of any changes of address (either residential or work) no longer than 7 days of your change. You should do this in the nearest police station where you’ve moved. Bring your passport and BRP card as well as the police registration certificate you got on the first days of your arrival.

School

If you have children at the age of school you need to apply for school admission through the local council of the borough you live in. Admission usually are sent in November each year and if you arrive and settle after this date you will need to submit an “In Year Admission”; you can usually find the required information and forms on your local council’s website. They will process your application and hopefully offer your child a place in a school. Two types of schools are available in the UK: government-funded (which are free) and independent schools (where you need to pay for the costs). Ofsted is the governing body that evaluates all the schools across the countries and rates them. Try to find a school with “Outstanding” rating which is the best.

Credit Score

Like some other countries, there is a credit score system in the UK that you’re highly dependant on for almost everything. If you want to get a mobile phone or home broadband plan, buy a car or house, get a credit card, etc. your credit score is important. If you have no credit score history in the UK, you need to wait for a couple of months to receive some of those services or use alternatives that don’t require a credit check.

Easy steps to improve your credit score? Here are some I found:

  • Set up Direct Debit to pay all your bills.
  • Make your financial transactions clear and transparent.
  • Don’t make black money.
  • Get a credit card after a few months (maybe years) and pay it back on time.

— Update: I’ve written a separate post about credit score in the UK:

Cultural Diversity

You see people from every country in the world here. The diversity of cultures is amazing. Learn to respect all these cultures and ethics.

The UK community highly respects the LGBT+ groups and you should too.

Rain?! ☔️🌧🌦

I’m sure you know that London is the city of rain (Rasht is a similar city in my country, Iran!); try to get used to it, carry a small umbrella with yourself all the time. When it rains it’s almost cold (even in summer) so take care of yourself :-)

Mobile Carriers

There are several mobile carriers in the UK where you can get a SIM as soon as you arrive in the UK. Start with a pay as you go and you can easily switch that to a pay monthly later. Keep in mind that if you start a long-term pay monthly plan you cannot cancel it in the middle of the contract and you need to pay penalty for that; so choose wisely.

In order to compare mobile providers as well as other services, uSwitch.com website is your friend!

Broadband Internet

This is not Finland or South Korea! Don’t expect cheap broadband connections of 300+ Mb/S! In most cases, the highest speed you can get is between 25 to 110 Mb/S. When you’re going to get broadband, talk to the sales support of your selected supplier, you can always get a better offer than what you see on their website; bargaining works well here :-))

TV

In the United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies, any household watching or recording live television transmissions as they are being broadcast (terrestrial, satellite, cable, or Internet) is required to hold a television license.

It costs you £150 per year and you can get it online at tvlicensing.co.uk.

Many broadband providers like BT, Sky, Virgin Media, etc. offer TV plans to watch various premium TV channels using their set-top box devices but if you don’t want to pay for that, you can still enjoy free TV and Radio channels through Freeview both using a smart TV and your Internet connection or an indoor/outdoor aerial.

The United Kingdom is a country full of opportunities to grow; success is just around the corner. So use this opportunity and make it the best happening in your entire life!

P.S.: I update this story from time to time to include more information and details, so it is worth coming back regularly. Following me on Twitter can be another way to get updates ;-) @mahdi.

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