If you’ve always dreamed of immigrating to the UK and living in London but haven’t a clue as to how to get here, then you’ve come to the right place!
Back in 2009, I was a 23-year-old with big plans to move from the US to the UK. The only problem was that I didn’t know where to begin. After months of research and discussion with my boyfriend, we applied for the now-defunct Tier 1 General visa and hoped for the best. On December 2010 I found myself on a one-way flight to London and haven’t looked back since.
I founded Girl in London both to chronicle my experiences living as an expat here and to help provide information to would-be expats on how to make their own leap across the pond.
So here goes nothing . . .
Getting a UK Visa
(if you don’t feel like reading, head over to the simplified chart of UK visas)
Thanks to freedom of movement with the European Economic Area (EEA), European citizens can legally live and work in London. All you need is a suitcase and a plane ticket. Yay!
If you happen to have one parent that has European citizenship chances are they can pass it down to you (if you bug them enough). You need to contact the embassy/consulate of your parent’s country in your home country to find out how to do this. Just remember, before flying to the UK you’ll need to have your European passport.
Australians and other commonwealth citizens can apply for something called an Ancestry Visa if one of their grandparents was born in the UK. This visa lasts for 5 years, after which you can apply for settlement, which can then lead to UK citizenship if you so desire.
Citizens of the following nations can live and work in the UK for up to 2 years if they are between 18-30 years old:
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
- Republic of Korea
Special Professions and Nationalities
There are special visas available for professional athletes, religious workers, and charity workers. However, to be quite honest, I know very little about them. There are also specific visas available for citizens of Turkey.
If you didn’t fall into any of the categories above, then you’ve got your work cut out for you. There are two main routes to settling in the UK permanently in your situation: The Tier 1 and Tier 2 visa.
Tier 1 Visa
The Tier 1 General Visa, which allowed foreigners (including Americans) to live and work freely in the UK based roughly on age, education, and income, was sadly scrapped a few years ago thanks to a mix of anti-immigration sentiment and fraud.
Now the only Tier 1 visas left are designed for investors, entrepreneurs, and those with ‘exceptional talent’ (i.e. movie stars, rock stars, and brilliant scientists). You’ll need a least a few hundred thousand pounds to even consider the investor or entrepreneur visa.
Tier 2 Visa
If you don’t have a few hundred grand to spare then the Tier 2 Visa (work sponsorship) is the most feasible immigration route available. There are two long-term variations of it: the intra-company transfer visa, and the general visa. These are notoriously hard, but not impossible to get.
Intra-company transfers are pretty common at large multinational companies, and in the case of London, particularly with banks. Beyond that, if you’d like to apply for a job to obtain Tier 2 General sponsorship, you generally need to work in a profession all the approved list of skill shortages. Note that the list tends to heavily favour professionals in engineering, computer programming/IT, hard sciences, medical industry, and fine arts. Furthermore, only companies that have applied to become sponsors can offer Tier 2 visas (see list here).
Finding a Job in the UK
Start out by reading my tips on finding a job in London.
I get asked all the time about whether someone should look for a job before moving to London or visit London to first find a job. If you live in Europe and/or are legally able to work in the UK, I suggest job hunting before making your move. European residents can take budget flights to London to do interviews. Finding a job this way might be a little cumbersome, but will probably save you money in the long run.
For those who are seeking sponsorship – you’re not supposed to look for a job on a ‘leisure’ trip to London. Though that doesn’t stop people from trying – and occasionally succeeding – I would never recommend something that’s against the rules.
In terms of where to look for sponsored work, previous commenters to the site have noted that a lot of academic and research postings offer Tier 2 sponsorship. I’d also point you in the direction of major international recruiters and if you’re in the US, government contractors.
Moving to London
As far as the logistics of moving to London is concerned, it’s not too bad. I’ve met people that used international moving companies and they’ve worked out pretty well. I sold pretty much everything I owned prior to moving to London so my move only involved a few suitcases. To learn more about what to do when you arrive in London, check out my New to London? page.