Work in the UK: A Simple Guide to Relocating

Big Ben and Westminster Bridge

Despite the recent political uncertainty of Brexit, the prospect of living and working in the United Kingdom remains highly desirable for foreign workers who are looking to relocate. With the sixth largest economy in the world and a relatively low unemployment rate, even the notoriously miserable weather isn’t enough to put people off.

If you’re looking to move on and start a new career in good old Blighty, though, there are a few things you should be aware of first. So, in a manner befitting your new surroundings, keep calm and read on. If you want to work abroad, and the UK is your chosen cup of tea (with milk, of course), this is everything you need to know…

General Info

As mentioned, the UK has a relatively low unemployment rate of 4.9 per cent and possesses an active workforce of just over 32 million people. This makes it one of the most powerful economies in Europe, which is reflected in the high numbers of immigrants who decide to settle there; around 3.5 million foreign nationals currently work in the UK. The country as a whole is generally a diverse place, with 14 per cent of the population foreign-born, and over 3 million migrants based in London alone. Therefore, as a foreigner, you certainly won’t be alone!

Biggest Sectors

The UK is highly globalised, which means that companies employ people from all over the world. As a result, job competition is fierce but candidates with the right blend of education, experience and skills stand a very good chance of employment. The graduate market in particular is strong, with jobs available in a wide variety of sectors.

Typically, though, the key sectors are the following:

  • Professional services
  • Agriculture
  • Production

Professional and financial firms are the biggest drivers of economic growth in the country, while heavy industry and manufacturing continue to employ large numbers of workers in spite of recent setbacks. If you are looking for roles that are in high demand, the government also maintains an official jobs shortage list that is designed to attract skilled foreign workers; roles in the healthcare and IT industries feature heavily on this list.

The hospitality industry is also extremely migrant-friendly, with nearly half its workforce comprised of foreign nationals. Much of the work in this sector is paid by the hour, with the average pay just above minimum wage. Although job turnover is high in this sector, there is always work readily available.

Many of the biggest companies in the world have a presence in the UK, too, and advertise opportunities from school leaver to experienced hire level. Technology, financial and engineering firms are always looking to recruit new talent in particular, with globally recognizsd brands such as IBM, PwC and General Electric providing high-quality training and development programmes for less experienced employees.

Salary Information

Salaries vary by industry and location, but a fair estimate of the UK average salary is at around £27,500, according to PayScale. Salaries in London tend to push towards the £35,000 mark, although this is offset by the much higher costs of living in the capital. Cambridge, Edinburgh and Bristol are also areas where salaries generally exceed the national average.

In terms of industry, IT and financial services professionals command the biggest average pay packets (between £30,000 and £35,000); conversely, median salaries in the education and retail sectors have dropped just below the national average. The UK is no stranger to the gender pay gap, either, with males on average earning around £5,000 more per year than their female counterparts.

Cost of Living

As previously mentioned, the cost of living in the UK can vary wildly. For example, a decent one bedroom apartment in the north of England could cost you as little as £500 per month, whereas a similar sized property in London is around £1,900 per month. As a general rule, rents tend to be higher in larger cities, although the likes of Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds are more reasonable than the capital; another option is to house-share with other expats, students or young professionals. Either way, you should take this into account when looking for jobs.

As well as other general costs such as groceries, you should also consider how much it will cost you to get to work. Although the UK has a comprehensive rail network, fares can be very expensive; many commuters try to save money by purchasing season tickets or railcards. Travelling by bus can be a more economical alternative, while the costs of running a car are fairly cheap, too.

Finding a Job

As with any country, it is highly recommended that you find a job before you move there, as it will make an already difficult transition much less stressful. A good place to start is to research the sectors already discussed and see where your own skills would be best suited.

In terms of actual vacancies, there are various national job listings websites that contain a comprehensive and up-to-date list of the latest openings, including the government’s own job register. It’s also a good idea to search for industry-specific job sites and forums, as well as engaging with companies on social media.

You could also consider:

  • NetworkingNetworking is a hugely powerful tool. If you don’t have any existing personal contacts, utilise LinkedIn to connect with the relevant people in the industry and location you are targeting.
  • Recruitment agencies – Many agencies are industry-specific, so this can narrow your search and potentially yield more promising results. Some companies only advertise job postings through agencies, so it is worthwhile to join one.
  • Company websites – Make a list of companies that operate within your industry and visit each of their websites individually. They should all have a careers section that contains job listings and information on recruitment for certain roles. This can keep you ahead of the game and ensure you have the most up-to-date information.

Other Considerations

If you possess professional qualifications gained in a different country, such as in legal or medical fields, you need to ensure that they will be recognised in the UK. You can do this yourself through NARIC, the government agency that standardises academic credentials from abroad.

Additionally, the national language of the UK is, of course, English and you will be expected to have a minimum level of speaking proficiency for most roles; this is usually specified in the job description. Some roles – especially security sensitive ones, such as in the police, armed forces or intelligence services – may only be open to UK nationals, as well.


Visas and Work Permits

At the time of writing, citizens within the European Economic Area (EEA) have the right to live and work in the UK without a work visa. Of course, this will be subject to significant change over the coming years as the British government negotiates its withdrawal from the European Union; the effect this will have on non-EU nationals’ right to work in the UK remains to be seen.

Until then, the large majority of non-EEA workers will continue to need a Tier 2 visa, which is granted to employees of a company that possesses a Tier 2 sponsorship licence. Any vacancies at these companies must be advertised to UK and EEA citizens first, though – the only exception is for jobs that are on the official occupations shortage list.

There are several variations of this visa; the most notable is the Intra-Company Transfer visa, which allows employees of a multinational business to work in one of their UK offices. If you work for such a company – such as Deloitte or KPMG – it could be worth exploring this option.

Although Brexit has somewhat muddied the waters, with various short-term effects such as the weakening of the pound, the UK is still an enviable and important economic hub that has a thriving international job market. As a result, it will continue to attract some of the best talent from across the globe.

Of course, if you’d prefer to stay in the EU, you could consider working in Germany; alternatively, there are plenty of appealing opportunities in the rugged wilderness of New Zealand. Let us know about your chosen destination in the comments below…