Sitting across from my banker and new friend, I am feeling the euphoria of crossing off another big task on my "Moving to a New Country" to-do list. He is a friendly American football player and thanks to his warmth and jokes, I have enjoyed setting up a bank account much more than one normally would. He asks my current occupation and I give the rehearsed spiel on how I just moved here and am going to start the serious job search once all of our ducks are in a row.
“Okay, I’ll list you as ‘fun-employed’ then.”
“What?” I thought maybe, as per usual, the accent had gotten the better of me.
“Fun-employed. You know, it sounds a lot better than the other word.”
Laughing, I agreed that, yes, that would do.
“And your National Insurance Number?”
My turn to look like an idiot, again. “Umm, what’s that?”
Smiling sympathetically, Carl explained having a National Insurance Number was necessary in order to get hired and directed me in how exactly to get one. Leaning back, I listened, feeling the naivety about how to start a life in the UK—which I had encountered far too often—setting in.
Upon receiving my Tier 4 Dependent visa, my only instruction was to pick up my residency permit from the post office. Obviously (in hindsight) there are innumerable other things you must do in order to truly become a resident within a community.
You would think that the UK government could at least give you some sort of manual—but since they don't, here is my list of essential things you need to do upon arrival to live in the United Kingdom:
1. Apply for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
Do this before you leave your home country. Until you open a bank account, which can take a couple of weeks, it is essential that you have a way to spend money without encountering the countless fees that exist country-to-country. The easiest way around this is using a no foreign transaction fee credit card.
It takes away the urgency of opening a bank account and needing an income, while allowing you to pay for things at their true price. Plus you can start racking up points for rewards geared towards travellers.
2. Pick up your Residence Permit
Pretty straightforward, as it is the only thing they actually tell you how to do. (Head's up: The picture you take at your Biometric Residency appointment when you apply for your visa is the photo used for everything. Not the nice passport photo you send in. Needless to say, the photo on all of my visa documents is super flattering. . .not.)
3. Apply for your National Insurance Number
You need this in order to work in the UK and it takes a couple of weeks to process. Go to the Money and Tax section on the gov.uk website and click the link saying "Apply for National Insurance Number."
3. Start house-hunting
It can take a little while to find the perfect spot, so I started viewing flats immediately. However, depending on the leasing agency, you cannot move forward in the process until opening a bank account. Here are the most useful titbits I discovered:
• Rent out an Airbnb for your first couple of weeks
We know people who paid a deposit on a place before they arrived; the location is terrible and they are paying way more than they should. While house-hunting during our first couple weeks, we learned about the current market, what leasing agencies have a bad rep, and where the most ideal locations are. Thanks to our flexibility with Airbnb, we discovered that landlords were accepting really low offers and we ended up snagging a flat downtown for £60/month less than the asking price.
• Get a guarantor or pay six months upfront
Leasing agencies require a guarantor to co-sign your lease. The guarantor must be a UK resident, obviously posing difficulties for newly arrived expats. However if you are able to pay six months of rent up front they will usually waive the need for a co-signer.
• Don’t forget about Council Tax
UK rental prices are not telling the whole story. The location, size and number of inhabitants will determine your Council Tax Band and in turn your monthly council tax fee. However, there are ways to get discounts on your council tax (i.e. full-time students receive a 100 per cent discount), but you must submit forms proving your reduction or they will charge you full price.
4. Open a bank account
To open a basic UK bank account you need:
• Photo ID (residence permit) and passport
• Proof of address (Hint: you don’t have this when you move to a new country)
Obtaining the proof of address requirement is different depending on your situation. For Dalton (as a student), he was able to request a letter from the university (addressed to the specific bank) that sufficed.
I had to wait until we found an apartment, paid a down payment (racking up points on my no foreign transaction fee credit card!) and then requested a Leasing Agreement that served as my proof of address.
5. Enrol with a General Practitioner (GP)
As Americans, this was our first experience with public health care.
To enrol with a GP you must go into an office, fill out forms and show photo ID and proof of address. We were able to register with the GP at Dalton’s university. However, usually you just register with the one closest to your home address.
A year from now, I'm sure my checklist will be that much more detailed, but I would have been quite pleased if the customs official had handed me this list back with my stamped passport.
Take a deep breath, each of these tasks take some time, but it is quite rewarding each step you take closer to being a fully functioning resident.Add this article to your reading list