How to move to the UK: A Step-by-Step Guide

Whether it’s for political, financial or safety concerns, or if you just need an adventure or a fresh start, working out how to relocate to the United Kingdom (UK) can be tricky. Where do you even begin? We’ve compiled this step-by-step guide to help you smoothly navigate the choppy waters of an overseas move.

Step 1:  Get a South African Passport

The UK government cannot issue you a visa without a valid South African passport. Home Affairs has become more efficient at issuing these documents, but apply sooner rather than later for a first-time passport or a passport renewal to avoid timing complications. Visit the Home Affairs website to find out more about applying for your South African passport.

Step 2:  Find Out Which Visas You Qualify For

Before you arrange an intercontinental removals company to relocate your household contents, find out whether you can actually move to the UK.
Many South Africans with British heritage qualify for a UK Ancestral Visa, which gives you the right to live and work in the UK for up to 5 years.
While the costs of earning UK citizenship can add up, time spent in the UK on an Ancestral visa also counts towards earning permanent settlement rights and, eventually, a British passport. To find out if you are already eligible for a British Passport, try this FREE birth certificate evaluation. Ryan Rennison, managing director of UK visa solutions experts, Move Up, says individuals who want to relocate to the UK, but who do not qualify for ancestral visas or British passports, have several other visa options they can explore.
“The UK government has expressed interest in attracting people with special skills into the country including doctors, nurses, fashion designers and film and television professionals. Highly skilled individuals in the fields of science, humanities, engineering, digital technology and the arts are already on their priority list. If you or your spouse fit into one of these categories this may be another route you can explore towards living in the UK.”
Take this FREE assessment to find out which visas you qualify for. While Brexit will mean increased opportunities for skilled South African workers, the UK’s Migration Advisory Committee recently announced the Seasonal Agricultural scheme that comes into operation in the British Spring of 2019. Open for all applicants, this scheme will provide a new visa route to the UK for South Africans.

Step 3:  Find out How Much It Costs to Relocate

Paying for your visa or a British Passport is not the only cost you’ll have to cover when it comes to relocating to the UK. A UK Ancestral Visa, for example, also requires that you pay the UK government your National Health Insurance (NHI) fees for five years, upfront. That is a hefty sum of cash if you’re taking your whole family with you too. Add on flights, a global removal company’s fees, expensive daily transport costs, rent, groceries and school fees, and things can really start to add up.
Make sure you have enough capital to get you to the UK and to cover expenses for a few months while you get settled into a new job and your new home.
Even though some South Africans are lucky enough to get work within two to three months, with a lot of highly qualified and experienced people in the UK most expats will tell you that getting a decent job in your field can take anywhere up to nine months.

Step 4:  Choose a Reliable Immigration Agency

Besides your hopes and dreams, there’s a lot riding on getting a successful visa application – first time around. Make sure you choose the right immigration agency for you to ensure your best chances of success. Here are our top tips on choosing a reliable company to handle your visa or passport applications.

Step 5:  Apply for Jobs While You’re Still In SA

Avoid mowing through your life savings at a nauseating pace and apply for jobs before you even leave SA. UK businesses tend to rely on recruitment agencies for their staffing needs, so save yourself a lot of time and hassle by contacting the agencies that specialise in your industry. A word of caution: only start applying for jobs once you have secured your British Passport or work visa. Few companies will take a chance on someone who hasn’t secured the right to work in the UK. While there are companies that are registered to hire foreigners on a General Tier 2 Work Visa, let us be the first to tell you that it costs UK businesses more money to hire someone on a Tier 2 visa than hiring someone who already has the right to live and work in the UK. (In any case, to qualify for a Tier 2 sponsorship, you also need to land a job that pays over £30,000 per annum). If you are dead set on trying the Tier 2 visa sponsorship route, take a look at this list of registered Tier 2 visa sponsors listed by the UK government. If you’re ready to get started on your job hunt, the following sites can help you check out open positions and begin your applications: • IndeedMonsterJobsiteReed.co.uk

Step 6:  Make Sure You Can Afford to Live in the UK

Even though groceries in South African now cost more than buying food in the UK, it’s still important to do your homework on the cost of living in the UK. Get in touch with a UK-based recruitment agency to establish what you can expect to earn in your region of choice, taking your qualifications and experience into account too. If you’re planning on moving to London, take a look at this comprehensive living and working guide compiled by a local. If Edinburgh’s more up your alley, try combing through these living costs and relocation tips. Generally speaking, big city living expenses are higher than surrounding areas, so use these two articles as a general guide.

Step 7:  Read Other Expats’ Stories Before You Move

While they may also speak English, UK culture is starkly different to South African culture.
Before you take the plunge, read up on other South Africans’ stories of moving overseas and check that you’ve thought about the potential impact on you and your family, should you relocate.
Popular lifestyle blog, Becoming You, features a series that interviews South Africans who have moved overseas – their highs and their lows. Read The Honest Expat now for some unique insights that might prove useful to you.

Step 8:  Find a Temporary (or Long-term) Place to Live

If you have any connections in the city you’re moving to, now is the time to find them on Facebook and make contact. The great thing with South Africans living in the UK is they have all been in the position you’re about to find yourself in. They’ve all experienced what it’s like to arrive in a foreign country to build a new life without knowing how the transport, housing or schooling works.
If possible, try to arrange to stay with family, friends or friends of friends for your first month or two in the UK. These are the people who will show you the ropes and offer practical support as you find your feet in your new city. They will probably also be able to help you find a place to rent at a reasonable price that’s not too far from your new job.
If you have no connections where you’re going, then try renting an Airbnb apartment while you explore and gather information on the most suitable areas for you to live. Remember, the further away you are from the city centre, the cheaper the rentals will be.


Step 9:  Make Sure to Collect Your BRP Card on Time

Upon securing your work permit the UK Home Office provides you with a letter presenting all the details around collecting your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). New arrivals to the UK (excluding tourists, of course) are required to collect their BRP card from the designated Post Office in the UK, within ten days of their arrival in the UK. If the card is not collected within the ten days after your arrival, you may face a fine or other penalties. Take note that some UK Post Offices require all dependants (even minor children) to be present when collecting the BRP cards.

Step 10:  Get a Local SIM Card and Portable Power Bank

One thing to look forward to in the UK is cheap mobile data rates. Getting a pay-as-you-go SIM card for your cellphone is easy and requires almost zero paperwork. We recommend choosing a service provider like Three – they offer unlimited data for £32 month-to-month, which comes with unlimited texts and airtime too. Hello! It’s a good idea to invest in a power bank for your phone as well so you can navigate your way around your city of choice, watch YouTube videos in transit (with earplugs, of course) and WhatsApp to your heart’s content. Trust us, there is NOTHING worse than running out of battery power in an unfamiliar city!


Step 11:  Open a Bank Account

Generally speaking, you won’t be able to cash your first pay cheque without a UK bank account. Most banks require proof of ID and proof of address. While each bank tends to have its own list of what documents are acceptable as proof of address, you can expect these options to be available to you: • a tenancy agreement or mortgage statement; • a recent electricity or gas bill (less than 3 months old); • a recent (less than 3 months old) bank or credit card statement that’s not printed off the internet; or • a current council tax bill. If you’re new to the UK, you probably don’t have any of the documents on this list. Luckily, in recent years, banks have become a bit more flexible in terms of what documents they will accept as proof of address. If you’re in the UK to study, for example, many banks will accept a letter from your University’s admissions office confirming your address. Some banks will also accept a letter from Jobcentre Plus confirming your National Insurance number or even a letter from your employer, as long as it’s less than three months old. Alternatively, before you leave for the UK you can approach your South African bank and ask them to change your correspondence address to your UK address. Once you’ve changed your address, ask your local bank to send a bank statement to your new address by post, and voila! You’ll have a document that proves your UK address.

Step 12:  Make New Friends

Settle into your new city faster by making new friends. Visit local churches, synagogues or mosques (whatever your preference) until you find a good fit; join a sports club or exercise group; and connect to expat meet up groups online. Full immersion into a brand new network of people is what you’re after if you want to connect socially and stave off feelings of loneliness and homesickness.

Step 13:  Prepare Yourself for the Culture

Beer on Tap The rumours are true. Brits love a pint at the pub after work – and on the weekends. Maybe it’s the copious amount of rain and the limited daylight hours in winter, but if you want to socialise with the locals, you’ll have to get friendly with the idea of spending lots of time in bars. Drinking and driving? Never. In the UK it’s unheard of to get behind the wheel of a car after you’ve been out on the town. Expect to hail a taxi, order an Uber or jump on the bus if you’ve had a drink or two – or more. Bring & Braai – Not so Much In the UK it’s unusual to entertain people in your home, probably because they’re mostly quite small. It’s far more common to meet out on the town. As South Africans we are known for our hospitality, so it’s a bit of a gear shift to delay inviting people over, which, if done too soon, will make most of your new UK acquaintances rather uncomfortable. The Long & Winding Road to Friendship Some expats will tell you they find it difficult to become close friends with locals: it could be years of nights out and talking about the weather before you become a close friend and confidant. Many Brits are extremely private and won’t handle questions about their politics and religious beliefs very well. Travel Etiquette While South Africans are quite chatty on the whole, don’t expect even to make eye contact on the bus, train or underground. Most people focus on minding their own business, which you’ll soon learn to do, too. A word to the wise: peak-hour traffic is formidable, especially in larger cities. Make sure you follow the crowd in terms of which side of the escalator to stand on, or prepare to be glared at and commanded to move out of the way by rushing commuters. Dating Culture South Africans are, generally speaking, still quite conservative on the whole. In the UK, it’s common for women to pursue the men, although some blokes are still open to doing the chasing. The majority of singletons use dating apps and websites, which doesn’t seem to carry a stigma over the pond. For some healthy dating advice from an Englishman, follow Matthew Hussey on your favourite social media platforms. Grocery Shopping & Petrol Station Surprises Prepare to pack your own grocery bags. Even if you shop at the Woolworths of the UK (Marks & Spencer), you’ll be required to pack your purchases into your shopping bags. A novelty for South Africans, some supermarkets even have self-service tills. You do the scanning, bag packing and card payment yourself, while the paypoint makes sure you’re not cheating. Each self-service terminal is equipped with a scale that determines whether there are too few or too many items in your shopping bag for what you’ve scanned at the till. Filling your car with petrol is another self-service experience in the UK. With the cost of labour at a premium, expect to hop out of the driver’s seat to fill your tank and pump your own tyres too. Learn the Lingo While, thanks to the old British colony days, South Africans do use many of the same words and expressions as our British counterparts, here’s a short list of words the Brits use that may prove useful to know, early on:
  • Uni – University.
  • Pants – Underwear. (Rather say “trousers” if you want to avoid people horribly misunderstanding you!)
  • Pub – Bar.
  • Fit – Attractive.
  • Kip – Nap.
  • Ring – Phone (verb).
  • Crisps – Chips.
  • Chips – Slap chips.
  • Mates – Friends.
Well, that’s it! Once you’ve applied these steps, all that’s left to do is change your screensaver to a beautiful landscape of your future homeland and plan your farewell party. Good luck!
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