Whether you’re considering a move to England or Northern Ireland, we’ll help break down everything you’ll need to know about visas, immigration, finding a mover, and moving costs to make the UK your new residence. So even if you haven’t been personally invited by the Queen of England herself, you can still settle on one of the many islands that makes up the United Kingdom (or British Isles).
How to Move to the United Kingdom
At a glance
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How do I move to the UK right away?
While it takes a bit longer to make the United Kingdom your forever home, don’t worry! There are still plenty of ways you can start living there ASAP:
- Apply for a Standard Visitor visa. This allows you to stay in the UK for up to six months at a time and is a popular option for visiting, seeing family and friends, or even interviewing for a job.
- Apply for a work visa. There are various work visas available, and you can get them for short-term (temporary) and long-term work assignments. There are even business visas available for entrepreneurs, business developers, and investors—but either way, you’ll want to be employed before you apply, especially if you need employer sponsorship.
- Apply for a student visa. You can apply for this if you’re above the age of 16 and can prove that you’ve been offered placement in a course, have the funds for tuition, and have the consent of a parent—if you’re under the age of 18.
Remember, though: in order to apply for a visa of any kind, you’ll definitely need to have a valid passport (unless you’re the Queen) and probably proof of financial ability to support yourself throughout your entire trip.
It’s technically possible to become a citizen of another country without a lawyer’s help, but getting an expert on board is a great way to ensure you do everything right—despite the additional cost. And especially if you're immigrating with children or a spouse. You can usually locate the resources to find a reputable lawyer on your destination country's citizenship and immigration website. The United States has one for those immigrating to the US, for example.
How much does it cost to move to the UK?
Hate to be the bearer of bad (and totally unsurprising) news, but moving internationally is going to cost you—even if you’re headed to Stonehenge. That’s what budgets are for, though! We’ll help you break down the general costs so you can start planning:
|Shipping (professional movers)||$3,000–-$7,000|
|Visa and immigration fees||$100–$1,500 for visas, and up to $2,500 for immigration costs|
The actual cost for your international move may be a little bit different—you can sometimes save if you choose not to use a professional moving company to help you ship your belongings, but it’s easy to overpay for an international move without professional help. And the cost for your visa or immigration documents will vary depending on which type you choose. You can find out about individual visa costs on the UK’s official website.
In the United Kingdom, you have to pay a VAT, or Value Added Tax, of 20% on most goods and services you purchase. There are some items that are taxed at a reduced rate of 5%, like sanitary or children’s products—but it’s good to keep in mind that many household items are taxed at this rate.
What to do once you’ve moved
Whether you’re moving to the UK temporarily or you’re immigrating permanently, getting there is only half the battle. We recommend adding these to your to-do list once you’ve arrived:
- Find a place to live. The average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment (or flat, as they say) is about $1,000 per month if you’re in the city, and even less if you live outside the city
- Enroll the kids in school. The UK’s government has plenty of resources for childcare if you need them.
- Open a local bank account. Foreign residents can open traditional bank accounts in the UK as long as they have proof of a local address.
- Find a job (if you didn’t arrive with one). If you haven’t already got an in with a local employer, the government can help you find a job, too!
- Apply for health care. Like Canada, the United Kingdom offers its residents universal health care referred to as the National Health Service or NHS. Appointments, treatments, and medications are usually free because the cost for health care is paid through taxes.
- Get used to public transportation. The UK’s public transportation systems are fantastic, and you can reach each city in the UK via tram, train, coach, or local bus.
- Find friends and learn the lingo. You’ll be chuffed (pleased) to know that the easiest way to meet new people—and even other expats—is by getting to know your neighbors, volunteering, or connecting with locals online.
- Eat the food. While not completely different from the food you’ll find in the US, dishes in the UK look and sound a little different. For example: “bangers and mash” includes sausage and mashed potatoes with gravy, while “full English breakfasts” come with baked beans.
The United Kingdom was the first to develop an underground railway system, also known as “the tube”—and it is the biggest in the entire world. While the fare depends on how far you travel (and the time of day), people have said it’s one of the most unreliable and costly methods of public transport. So ride at your own risk!
How do I make the UK my permanent home?
If you’ve spent some time in the United Kingdom and concluded you’d gladly eat fish and chips every day, there are a few ways to apply for permanent residency to any one of the 69 official cities within the UK. Keep in mind though, this may not apply to you if you haven’t already lived in the UK for a little while:
This process, also known as “settlement,” allows you to live, work, and study in the United Kingdom for as long as you want. And according to the UK’s government website, you can even use this process to apply for British citizenship. However, you can only apply for this process under the following circumstances:
- You work in the UK. You’ll need a work visa and up to five years living there, (depending on the type of work visa you obtain).
- You have naturalized family members. Even if your Great-Aunt Margaret is a British citizen, you can apply for a family visa.
- You’ve lived there at least 10 years. This is also referred to as long residence and means you’ve legally lived in the United Kingdom for 10 continuous years.
- You’re a Commonwealth citizen. If you’ve been living in the UK for at least five years, and you have a UK Ancestry visa, this is for you.
- You’re a refugee. You’ll have to apply for asylum if you’d like to obtain residency as a refugee—which means you’ve left your home country out of fear for your safety.
- You’re returning. If you already obtained Indefinite Leave to Remain (or ILR) and you’ve been gone less than two years, you can reinstate your previous ILR.
- You’re leaving the military. If you served at least four years and you’re now leaving (or have already left) the UK’s armed forces, you can apply for ILR. As long as it’s within two years of your departure.
This option’s specifically for hopeful residents coming from the European Union (EU), Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, or Lichtenstein. This also works if you have family members born in any of these places.
If you’re already a British citizen, you’re automatically eligible for right of abode in the UK. But you also might be eligible as a Commonwealth citizen—which would mean you wouldn’t need a visa to live or work in the UK and there’d be no limit to how long you could stay.
This is a bit trickier, but might apply to you if you’re:
- Not officially documented as a citizen of any country
- Not able to live permanently in any other country
However, the UK’s government really only recommends applying this way if you’ve previously claimed asylum and your application was rejected.
Also called naturalization, British citizenship can be obtained in a number of ways:
- If you were born in the UK or have a British parent
- If your spouse is a British citizen (or a British national)
- If you’ve already obtained ILR
- If your EU Settlement Scheme is under ‘settled status’
- If you previously renounced your citizenship
Of course, there may be a few more ways to become a British citizen, like via Commonwealth citizenship or if you’re another type of British nationality. And regardless of which route you take, you’ll still have to pass an English language test and a Life in the UK test.
If you’re still confused or you think your particular situation is more complicated than the ones we’ve listed, there’s good news: the UK’s government offers specialized immigration support!
The United Kingdom (or UK) refers to the countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while Great Britain includes only England, Scotland, and Wales. So technically, the countries’ official title is: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
If a move across the pond is in your future, it can be easy to drown in a sea of immigration paperwork and moving expenses. But as long as you stay organized, determine which type of visa is right for your move, and budget carefully—you can spend less time stressing and more time trying to decide where you’ll get your morning cuppa when you get there. Safe travels, mate!
Can US citizens live in the UK?
Yes, a US citizen can live in the UK temporarily by using a visitor visa, work visa, or student visa.
How much money do you need to immigrate to the UK?
You’ll probably need $2,000–$5,000 to immigrate to the UK if you don’t plan to take much with you, and even more if you plan to send a whole lot (like your family home). Bottom line—it won’t be cheap.
Can I just move to Britain?
Yes, you can just move to Britain—as long as you have a valid passport and UK visa. You’ll only be able to stay for six months at a time if you aren’t working in the UK, though.
How can I stay in the UK legally?
You can stay in the UK legally by making sure your documents are up to date. This includes your passport, visa, and any associated paperwork required depending on your type of residency. For example: skilled workers may need documentation to prove employer sponsorship of their work visas.
How long can you stay in the UK without a visa?
You can stay in the United Kingdom without a visa for up to six months whether you’re coming from the US or South Africa. However, you will still need a valid passport to gain entry into the UK from the United States.
Can immigrants work in the UK?
Yes, immigrants can work in the UK using a work visa. There are several different types of work visas available, so you'll want to check the UK’s official website to make sure.
Does the UK have express entry?
No, unlike countries like Canada, the United Kingdom has no formal express entry processes. However, non-resident nationals can live in Canada for six months at a time, so gaining entry in the UK immediately is not really an issue.