Sponsored post: The Other Side of the Coin: Expats Relocating to the UK

When the topic is "expats", most UK media focus on Brits living abroad. But the UK is also home to a sizeable expat community. Plenty of well-qualified foreign nationals come to live and work in Britain every year – often lacking support during their relo

Demographic Growth through Migration

The government’s immigration figures for 2012 show a net migration of more than 176,000 people increasing the UK population. While over 300,000 residents left the UK behind – some British expats among them – almost 500,000 new arrivals planned to stay for a longer period. In addition to overseas students enrolling at boarding schools or universities, it’s particularly adults looking for further career opportunities who make up a considerable part of these newcomers.

The UK Border Agency reports that most visas for non-EU immigrants were issued to international students and to top-tier applicants for work visas: skilled workers, qualified professionals, employees on intra-company transfers, investors, entrepreneurs, etc. Between April 2012 and March 2013, hundreds of thousands of overseas residents registered for a National Insurance number.

Breaking down that data reveals that the largest contingent of expats relocated from Continental Europe, roughly in equal numbers from the EU15 member states and the relatively recent additions in Eastern Europe. Among the rest of the world, nationalities from Asia and the Middle East formed the largest group, with Africa, the Americas, and Australia & Oceania trailing behind.

Coping without Company Support

Regardless of their origin, expats often have one thing in common: they need to muddle through and sort out their relocation for themselves. Global mobility providers suggest that, even for many foreign assignees, the era of the full-service expat package is over. High-ranking executives, or transferees to “hardship” locations, still benefit from generous allowances and company support. Others are frequently left to their own devices – especially if they switch employers and start a new job in the UK.

If these new arrivals move for work-related reasons for the first time, they may underestimate the effort involved. After all, they speak the language, and they are familiar with Britain’s cultural exports, from award-winning novels to popular television shows. Or they have fond memories of their days as a visiting student or tourist exploring the British Isles.

But moving your household across borders and settling in another country just isn’t the same as hiking through Scotland or shopping in London’s trendy boutiques. Overseas students usually have a dedicated contact to turn to when they hit an emotional low or need practical help. Adult professionals are on their own.

In Need of Information on…

The urgent need for advice starts before the expats-to-be actually relocate to the UK. For new arrivals from the EU, it’s thankfully fairly easy to move between member states. Other nationals, however, have to cut through a bit of red tape and gather substantial visa and administration information on the UK.

Visa and Customs Regulations

General applicants for tier 2 work visa need to familiarize themselves with annual quota limits and the points system that may decide the success of their application. They’ll have to produce official paperwork to prove passing a labour market test, English language proficiency, their UK salary, academic qualifications, and financial solvency.

Once they are granted a visa, they have to figure out customs and import restrictions. No matter if they’d like to ship household goods from a non-EU country, bring along a beloved family pet, or pack a supply of prescription meds to tide them over till they find a GP – it’s more rules and regulations to tick off. Fortunately, the UK authorities, like the Border Agency or HMRC, provide very detailed guidelines online, but it’s a lot to take in.

Housing

Then there’s the one problem that affects all expats, from the EU or not. Since plenty of them look to the UK capital for their career options, it can be hard to find an affordable flat in the real estate bubble of the Greater London Area. This applies particularly to young professionals in entrance-level positions or skilled employees with lower salaries.

A quick Google search will result in websites like the popular Moveflat for flatmates, or the London Rents Map for accommodation costs. But do expats know which rights and responsibilities they have in case of a joint tenancy? Or are they aware how council tax bands might influence their cost of living?

Transport

If they work outside Greater London or similar urban areas, like Manchester, they might live somewhere quieter and cheaper – and more remote. Suddenly, a car is a must. It’s easy enough to get UK driving tips if you aren’t used to traffic on the “wrong” side of the road, or take a couple of lessons.

But if you’re tempted to bring your car, you will run into problems with local regulations. Even used cars from the EU must comply with technical requirements that might lead to extra repairs, while non-EU cars have to go through another complicated import procedure. Under the circumstances, it’s less of a hassle to lease a car or buy a used one in the UK.

That’s not even touching upon issues like finding the ideal childcare facility or school for expat kids, paying taxes in the UK, or getting the best deal from your utility provider. That’s why sharing tips and networking with other expats is essential, e.g. via the InterNations Communities in major destinations like London, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, or Brighton.

InterNations (www.internations.org) is the largest expatriate network worldwide, with over 1 million members in 390 cities around the globe. Members meet up at regular local events and activities; they exchange tips in forums and discussion groups, and online country and city guides offer valuable information about their new place of residence.

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