Get to know the UK: ISA

 

ISA_Featured_Image

With the festive period officially over and all the January sales coming to a close, it’s that special time of year where everyone sobers up and gets serious.

First up on the super-serious-things-no-one-likes-to-think-about calendar are UK taxes. Yep, if you haven’t submitted them yet, they’re due 31 January.

The tax year in the UK runs from 6 April to April 5, which is an unwelcome inconvenience for US expats — our US tax year follows the calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Every UK tax year (6 April to 5 April), UK residents are allowed to squirrel away about £15,000 tax free in a special interest-bearing account called an ISA — our UK word of the week!

What is an ISA?

ISA stands for Individual Savings AccountPut simply, and ISA is a tax-free savings account. They come two major forms: cash and investment.

Each year UK residents are given an allowance to deposit money in their ISA account(s) tax free. For the 2016/2017 tax year, the allowance is £15,240 – the rough equivalent of $24,000 USD.

Quirky Things to Know About ISAs

  • The £15,240 annual allowance means you can deposit no more than a combined £15,240 in your ISA accounts between 6 April 2016 and 5 April 2017. However, you are free to divide your allowance up as you wish.
    • For instance, you can choose to deposit £5,240 in an Investment ISA and £10,000 in a Cash ISA.
  • You can only open one Cash ISA and one Investment ISA per UK tax year
  • You can either maintain multiple ISA accounts as the years progress, or roll existing ISA accounts into a new account without suffering any consequences (from a tax perspective)
  • Most cash ISAs allow you to withdraw money without penalty. However, once you reach your annual allowance, you will not be able to deposit any additional funds into your ISA for the remainder of the tax year.
    • Say you deposit £15,000 into an ISA account on 10 April 2016 and withdraw £10,000 from the account on 15 April 2016. Even though your ISA balance is now only £5,000, you will only be allowed to deposit £240 for the remainder of the tax year (until 5 April 2017).

Opening an ISA

Anyone over 16 who is a UK resident for tax purposes is generally allowed to open an ISA. This includes work permit holders. All major banks offer both Cash and Investment ISAs. Interest rates vary between banks and various ISA offerings.

Welp, that just about covers the basic overview of what an ISA account is! Coming from the US it took me a while to figure out how they work, so if you are confused like I was about ISAs, I’m hoping this will help :)

 

xoxo

Girl in London

 

 

Announcing: Girl in London Guides

 

Girl in London Guides

It is with great excitement that I am announcing the launch of Girl in London Guides!

After years of blogging I’ve had countless people tell me that I should write a book about moving to London and living in London. Well, I’ve finally taken all that advice to heart and have started writing a set of guides to help my fellow Anglophiles move to, live, and thrive in the UK capital.

The first guide that I have available is … (drumroll please) …

Applications for UK Work Visas and Indefinite Leave to Remain: Getting it Right the First Time

This is for all of you out there who are currently going through the [excruciating] process of filling out your visa or ILR application. I’ve done it three times myself and each time it took days of research to get everything right.

The guide translates the UKBA’s ambiguous instructions into plain English, and provides lots of examples so you can fill out your application(s) with confidence.

The guide is £9.99, but since this is my first ever e-book, I’ve got a discount code for you all!

Use the promo code girlinlondon and you’ll get 50% off!

girl in london guides

Happy reading!

xoxo
Girl in London

Top 5 Places to Celebrate Thanksgiving in London

 
Thanksgiving in London

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/notahipster/

When I was a kid the 3.5 weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving couldn’t seem further apart. Now that I’m an adult, the whole month of November seems to fly by.

Time is relative, after all.

Anyways, I suppose it is that time of the year when those of us who indulge in the Thanksgiving tradition need to start thinking about what we’re going to do for the holiday. Over here in London, there are actually quite a few places to chow down on turkey, stuffing, and all the fixin’s.

Keep it Classy and Traditional with the Benjamin Franklin House

Thanksgiving in London

Image Source: http://www.benjaminfranklinhouse.org

The Benjamin Franklin House is hosting a traditional Thanksgiving feast- complete with turkey, stuffing, veggies, and pumpkin pie – on the evening of 26 November at the beautiful Clothworker’s Hall in central London. It’s a little pricey at £80/Adult and £45/child, but all proceeds go to supporting the Benjamin Franklin House here in London town. For more info, click here.

Have a Hipster Thanksgiving at the Breakfast Club

If traditional isn’t your thing, then you might want to take a look at what the Breakfast Club is offering this Thanksgiving. The faux American diner is cooking up a Turkey Day menu on 26 November at all its outlets across the city. Some sample dishes include spicy pumpkin soup and baked kale mac n cheese. At £28, it’s one of the cheaper deals in town. For more info, click here.

Enjoy a Traditional Thanksgiving for Less at Bodean’s

Bodean’s sets the standard for American BBQ in London, so it’s only fitting that they serve up a traditional Thanksgiving meal every year. Each of its branches are offering turkey, ham, and all the trimming for a very reasonable £23.95/person. Find the branch closest to you and book ahead – seats fill up quickly!

Tuck into Lobster at a Louisiana Style Thanksgiving with the Big Easy

If you’re in the mood for pit smoked turkey with a heaping side of Lobster, then you’ll want to head on over to the Big Easy on 26 November. Their £30/person Turkey Day menu (+£10 for Lobster) also includes homemade pumpkin pie. Mmmmmm. Click here for more info.

Have a Posh Turkey Day at Christopher’s Grill

This celebrated American establishment in Covent Garden is offering up a delectable Turkey Day menu for £55/person. The menu includes lots of fancy stuff, like goat cheese soufflé, roast corn and chorizo chowder, and pear and almond cobbler. Far from traditional, but it might appeal to the sophisticated side of your palate. Click here for more info.

Can I be honest with all of you for a moment?

I don’t really have the time to list ALL the restaurants offering a Thanksgiving menu – I tried to highlight a wide range of options above, but there are a lot I missed. Here’s a list of other places to chow down on Turkey on 26 November.

Honourable Mentions

The Narrow (see menu here)

Beas of Bloomsbury (takeaway only – see menu here)

Villandry

The Diner

Porky’s

Balthazar London

The Difference Between Indefinite Leave to Remain and Citizenship

 

uk citizenship

It’s been a couple of weeks since I was granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent their congratulations. I know I’m terrible at responding to comments and emails, but I do want to let you all know that I really really appreciate all the kind words that have been sent my way. You guys keep me going!

On that note I wanted to keep the ILR theme going this week and talk about the differences between ILR and UK Citizenship.  There is a lot of overlap, but they are definitely not the same thing.

Indefinite Leave to Remain

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland [Permanent residents of the UK can live in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland]

Indefinite Leave to Remain effectively equates to permanent residency. As a permanent residence, I am free to live and work in the UK without restrictions. I can also leave the UK and return as a please, as long as I’m not away for more than 2 years (in which case I would have to re-apply for settlement).

Having ILR also means you qualify for EU/EEA tuition rates at UK universities (provided you’ve lived in the UK more than 5 years), and it also makes it much easier to secure loans from banks.

Citizenship

Bruges Belgium

Bruges, Belgium [UK citizens can live and work anywhere in the EU/EEA]

UK citizenship is similar in that citizens are also free to live and work in the UK without restrictions. They can leave the UK and return as they please, but without the 2-year restriction. In other words, a UK citizen can move to Japan for 10 years and come back to the UK whenever he or she wishes, no questions asked.

See Also: What Does it Cost to Become a UK Citizen?

Obviously, citizens also qualify for EU/EEA tuition rates at UK universities and can secure loans and other financial accounts more easily than temporary residents.

Where the primary difference lies between IRL and citizenship is that UK citizens are also EU citizens. This grants UK citizens to live, work, retire, and enjoy unrestricted travel throughout the EU. Permanent residents of the UK do not have this right. Anyone who has traveled to an airport in Europe will notice that immigration is separated into two categories: EU/EEA Passports and All Other Passports. UK citizens use the EU/EEA line, while ILR holders like myself must still use the All Other Passports line.

Of course, another major difference between citizenship and settlement is that adult UK citizens have the right to vote. Permanent residents do not.

Obtaining UK Citizenship

In order to qualify for UK citizenship, you must first obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain. Most applicants must meet a 5-year residency requirement and hold ILR for at least one year before becoming a naturalised UK citizen. Applicants married to UK citizens have it a little easier – they qualify for citizenship directly after receiving Indefinite Leave to Remain, provided they’ve also met a three-year residency requirement.

FAQ: Don’t you have to give up your American citizenship to become a British citizen?

This is a question a lot of Americans ask me. For some reason there is prevailing myth that Americans are not allowed dual citizenship. This simply isn’t true. Regardless of whether you obtain additional citizenship through birth or naturalisation, dual, triple, or even quadruple citizenship is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the last time I visited the US Embassy here in London, the woman next to me was a citizen of FOUR countries (The United States, United Kingdom, India, and Italy).

Application Approved! You’re Looking at the UK’s Newest Permanent Resident!

 
Indefinite Leave to Remain

UK Home Office Premium Service Centre

I woke up this morning as a temporary work permit holder living in London. Tonight I’ll be going to bed as a UK permanent resident.

In other words…

OUR INDEFINITE LEAVE TO REMAIN APPLICATION WAS SUCCESSFUL!!!

Home_Office_Public_Entrance

Lunar House Entrance

We booked our Indefinite Leave to Remain application appointment just over a month ago, and today (Oct 17th) was the big day.

It took us several weeks and many, many, many, many hours to put our SET(O) application together, but it was worth it. This morning we hopped on the overground train to West Croydon and arrived at the UK Home Office at 11:00am for our 11:30am appointment. Here’s how the next 5 hours went:

Upon entry to Lunar House in West Croydon, we showed the guard our appointment confirmation letter and proceeded through security without any troubles.

Reception

handout

The visa processing area is located on the 3rd floor. There is a registration desk there that issues you a number – this is your application number. The number comes with a little card that tells you how the application process will go.

Registration

When we arrived the floor was nearly empty, so we were called right up to registration. The officer reviewed our passports, biometric cards, and entered in some information from our SET(O) application. She also checked our payment confirmation.

Biometrics

The next step was biometrics. We waiting in a small waiting area for our application number to be called, then we went to a closed off area with photo booths and fingerprint scanners. Our passports and biometric cards were checked again, and we had our photos taken.

THE LONGEST WAIT OF OUR LIVES

waiting_area

Waiting Area

After we were done with our photos, we were told we could leave the building to grab lunch – it would be a while. The Home Office offers a canteen and waiting area with monitors displaying the progress of all active applications, but the canteen was closed. We popped off to Starbucks for 20 minutes and when we returned are application went from “Awaiting Biometrics Confirmation” to “Awaiting Consideration.”

It was pretty promising.

However, it took another hour or so until our application moved to “Under Consideration.” We figured at this point we would only need to wait another 90 minutes, but we ended up waiting over three more hours. By the time they called our number after 4:00pm, the office was empty except for the officer who handed back our paperwork and said the magic words: “Your application was successful.”

Whew!

What a relief!

approval letter

So I may have spent my whole Saturday in a waiting room in West Croydon, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s taken five years to qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain and I’m just so relieved that the application process is through and over with.

Our new biometric cards will be coming in the post in the next few days.

I’ll write a separate post on the actually Indefinitely Leave to Remain application in the coming days, but I just wanted to share the good news with you all first!

It’s a date! I’ve just booked my UK settlement appointment!

 
A photo from my first ever trip to London in June 2010.

Horatio Nelson at Trafalgar Square (a photo from my first ever trip to London in June 2010)

Has it really been five years already?

I guess it has!

In 2010 I was a 22-year-old on a one-way flight to London. I landed at Heathrow in the midst of the coldest winter in the UK in decades and schlepped my way to a small rented room in South Ealing. Back then I was just trying to take it one day at a time.

Never could I have imagined all the wonderful opportunities and experiences that laid in store for me over the next five years – getting to know London, travelling around Europe, changing careers – this has probably been the most pivotal five years of my life.

My boyfriend and I entered the UK on work visas; work visas that have an expiration date. We successfully extended them in 2012 for three more years. And now, five years after we first arrived, we finally qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain. In layman’s terms, that’s permanent settlement (i.e. the right to live in the UK permanently).

Qualifying for Indefinite Leave to Remain

There are several different pathways for achieving permanent residency, but for most of us on work visas, it requires:

  • 5 years of continuous residency in the UK – you must remain in the UK at least 180 days each year during this time period
  • Passing a points-based test – this is the same test you must pass in order to obtain your original visa and visa extension/renewal
  • Proving your ability to speak English – American citizens do not need to provide any evidence other than their passport
  • Passing your Life in the UK Test – Read more about the test here

Appointment versus Mail-In Application

For anyone applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain, there are two options: a mail-in application and an in-person appointment at a designated service centre. We chose the latter, since 90% of in-person appointments are processed on the same day. When we mailed in our last visa extension, it took more than 3 months for our application to get processed and we were without passports the whole time. It costs more to book an in-person appointment, but I think the speed and the peace of mind make it worth it.

Our appointment is booked for mid-October, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to deliver the good news to you all by then.

 

Wish me luck!