The first 8 Weeks in the UK: An Expat’s Plan

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Having a settlement strategy when you arrive in your new country will help you get established as soon as possible. Time is money as they say. The longer you take to get settled, the more money it will cost you. Temporary accommodation alone will eat a massive hole in your cash.

Here is our settlement strategy - it worked quite well.

Which country to live in? Scotland Vs England

Decide which country to live when you first arrive in the UK as well as which area. You’ll need to tell the UK Government when you apply for your UK Ancestry Visa. We used the address of a hotel (a Premier Inn in the Glasgow area) on our visa application rather than a private address (e.g. AirBNB).

As a family of four (mum, dad and two secondary school aged boys) we decided on Scotland to start with. Our decision was based on our unique circumstances:

  • As we hadn’t secured employment in the UK before we left Australia, we needed to start applying for jobs as soon as we arrived. So we needed to be immediately available for interview. Based on our online research, we found the Scottish job market easier to navigate than England. There were too many variables to manage in England whereas Scotland seemed manageable. 
  • The cost of living in England (e.g. rent, council fees, commuting) is generally a lot more than Scotland. Especially living within commuting distance of London! We’re talking double to triple times the cost of rent and public transport. And then you’re commuting for longer. Precious time you can otherwise enjoy with your family and out and about enjoying your new surroundings.
  • It seemed too risky to first move to England. If we took several weeks, or months even, to find employment we would be facing unnecessary financial strain and jeopardising our family-work-life balance. We may have faced a very tough first year in the UK, perhaps even having to return home before we made the first year.  Given that every week without employment eats further into your savings – we thought we would be able to last longer in Scotland than in many of the job hot-spots in England like Manchester for example. So Scotland it was.
  • We’ve endured some of Australia’s coldest temperatures and felt that we could cope better in Scotland than most Aussies. We lived in Canberra, Australia for nearly 15 years. The Brits who lived in Canberra used to complain about its weather. -10ºC but no snow! We thought that at least in Scotland we would have real snow and rain. Australia’s been in near-drought conditions for more than a decade and seeing green all around and having regular rainfall would be delightful. Also, no more fears of a bush fire forcing you to flee your home and your town with 10 minutes notice.
  • We’ve always been drawn to Scotland’s natural beauty and history (and to the UK as a whole). We can’t wait to experience the dark sky areas …and the Northern Lights …and the quiet…and the wind…
  • The people. Every area of the UK seems unique and wonderful in its own way. Being Aussies with a no bullshit attitude, we thought we’d fit in with the locals quite nicely in a short amount of time. Also, fewer worries about us (and our sons) saying the wrong thing. I had an experience with an English recruitment and CV agency who informed me via email that my direct nature would not sit well with most English people. Okay then. Scotland it is!

Which area of Scotland to live in? Glasgow Vs Edinburgh

  • Our understanding is that job prospects and the cost of living are better in Glasgow than in Edinburgh.
  • But Edinburgh is so beautiful.
  • We wanted to play it safe when we started living in Scotland, so we chose Glasgow.
  • We also thought about living somewhere between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so we could access both job markets via public transport. But we did some research and it seemed like you needed to have a car to get to the public transport. Like a park and ride situation. That and the cost of commuting by train is 2-4 times more than the bus.
  • Traffic in Edinburgh is often horrendous. You can drive 30 minutes and still be in Edinburgh; whereas a 30-minute drive in Glasgow gets you out into the countryside.
  • We needed to choose a good school for our boys and stay in the area for at least 1-2 years (to allow the oldest boy to finish secondary school). The areas with good schools in Edinburgh had very high rental property costs. Beyond our budget. So we needed to find a nice place to live in Glasgow near a good school.

What is a ‘Nice’ place to live?

We had our unique circumstances and desires.

Transport

Given we wouldn’t have a car and the fact that we wouldn’t have a car for at least a year:

  • We wanted affordable, reliable, safe and convenient public transport that didn't cost an arm and a leg.
  • We also didn’t want to have to pay for an annual train ticket just to save money. A quarterly train ticket is probably as much as we could stomach. You can only handle so many advance purchases.

Reasonable commuting times

Getting to work:

  • 5-15 minute walk to a train station or bus stop, followed by…
  • 45 min train or bus journey – that runs every  10-30 mins – followed by…
  • 5-15 min walk to get to work.

Getting to school:

  • 5-15 min walk to school from our home (to prevent pneumonia in winter).

Maximum distance of rental property from nearest train station, bus stop and secondary school: 1 mile (1.6km). It takes about 15-20 minutes to walk 1 mile (at a leisurely 3mph); longer in rain or snow.

3 Bedroom Furnished Apartment

We didn’t bring much more than what we could fit in our suitcases on the plane and 2-6 large boxes sent my sea, to arrive after we had permanent accommodation. So we needed a furnished rental.

  • We’re not spring chickens anymore so we needed to have a comfy bed.
  • We’re all quite tall and broad shouldered so the furniture in the living area needed to seat the four of us comfortably.
  • A dining room/table isn’t necessary. We’ve been having lap meals and kitchen bench meals for most of our lives.
  • We have older sons who are used to having their own privacy and their own bedrooms. So three bedrooms. Even if we needed to make up a reception room/living area into a third bedroom.
  • Excellent heating and insulation. Double-glazed windows and good electric or gas heating.
  • Safety. A safe, friendly area with low crime and low deprivation levels. And a safe and secure dwelling. I’d read to avoid certain high-risk areas and soft targets like top floors where thieves use roof spaces and ceilings to gain access.
  • Superfast internet. At least 76mbps.
  • Good lighting with the chance of the sunshine in the living area to help counter SAD.
  • A dishwasher preferably (our kids are allergic to doing dishes).
  • A full-size fridge and decent size freezer (if possible). With teenage boys, I need to keep the home stocked with food to counter their bad tempers when they’re hungry. It’s like the Lord of the Rings at our place, with second breakfasts and late-night grazing.
  • Walking distance (max. 1 mile?) to public transport, shopping (groceries, fresh food/farmers markets) and the school.
  • Close to scenic walks, nature’s beauty and maybe even an indoor swimming pool (50m lanes would be a bonus).

Find a place to live

  • Only after obtaining a permanent address in a desirable secondary school’s catchment area, can you enrol your children into a school.
  • Also, a permanent address has to be secured by a long-term lease/rental agreement to reassure the school that you are not playing the catchment area game.
  • However, you can’t get into a rental agreement without having employment UNLESS you pay the first 6 months rent in advance. OUCH!
  • So, first things first – we needed to find a furnished 3 bedroom apartment in a nice area, in a desirable secondary school’s catchment area.
  • It took us 1-2 weeks to find permanent accommodation.
  • In the meantime, we paid as much as $1,000AUD a week for temporary accommodation (about £500 a week), for 1-2 weeks.

Enrol kids in school

  • The UK school year is totally different to Australia’s – mostly due to seasonal differences.
  • Scotland school’s start the school year in mid-August and school holidays can vary. Glasgow school holidays were from Monday 17 October – Friday 21 October 2016. The first term ended on 22 December 2016 and school returned in the first week of January 2017. The longest school holidays are in the UK Summer from late June to mid-August.
  • Meanwhile back in Australia, the school year started in late January to mid-December (give or take a few weeks). The longest school holidays are in the Australian summer from December to January.
  • By the beginning of September, when we first arrived in the UK, our boys had finished 3/4 of their school year in Australia (year 8 for the 14 yo and year 11 for the 17 yo). However, in the UK, the following year’s school year had already started. There is an overlap of about a term.
  • It can take 1-2 months to finalise a mid-year school enrolment, so the boys didn’t start back at school until the beginning of October.

Find work ASAP

  • You must live and work continuously in the UK for 5 years before being able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
  • After having your ILR for 1 year, you can apply for UK Citizenship.
  • So the sooner you get a permanent address and employment, the sooner you can secure your future in the UK.

Get a National Insurance Number (NIN)

  • You all need to get one apparently, even the kids – so they can get their own bank accounts.
  • You can’t get a NIN until you arrive and have a permanent address. There are some services in England that will do some ringing and posting for you so you can get your NIN earlier but it will cost you £100 and you can easily do it yourself after you arrive.
  • It can take 2-6 weeks to get a NIN.

Get bank accounts

  • You can’t get a bank account until you have a permanent address.
  • Once you get employment, you can’t get paid until you have a bank account…and a NIN.
  • If you get paid monthly, it might take up to a month after you get a NIN to receive your first pay.
  • Another good reason to save as much money as possible before leaving for the UK.

Mission accomplished

We achieved our plan within 8 weeks of landing in the UK. It was challenging but achievable.

How about yourself? If you're planning to move to the UK, do you have a plan? If you've already settled, do you have any advice to share with others?