Moving to the UK- A how-to guide

Are you sick of being in Canada? Looking to improve your English? Sample great whiskies on a weekly basis? Or maybe meet a lovely Englishman or Scotswoman? If you are between the ages of 18 to 30, this is for you!

Photo of a Canadian passport

Visa Application 

Canadians are usually granted 6 months visa-free in the UK on arrival, but as this is a tourist visa, you are not allowed to work. If you want to stay longer and work, it’s worth looking into the different options. If you are between 18 and 30 and would like to work and live there for up to 2 years, this is how to do it. (If you are over 30 but not quite 35, there’s still some places you can move to under a working holiday visa so don’t rule it out!)

First you need to check if you need to apply for a Tier-5 visa (working holiday visa) on https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa (Keep in mind that these can change without any notice, so always check with the competent authority). Being from Canada, the procedure was very straight forward. There is a lengthy online form to fill; you can save your progress as you go, which means you can do this in multiple sittings. And if you are anything like me, you will need to go chase down your old passport to remember when you entered the country previously. You will also need your past addresses and a lot of information you might not remember right away, hence the convenience of being able to save your application and return to it!)

After the form is all filled in, you pay the visa fee and book an appointment to have your identity verified and biometrics taken. This, unfortunately, is available only in major cities, so make sure to budget in the money and time to either get to Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax or St.John’s. One more thing to know is that the visa fee is non-refundable whether you get it or not, so make sure to have all your paperwork in order before submitting!

Once your appointment is booked, you need to make sure you bring in all the relevant documents (including the appointment confirmation). You will be sending your passport to New York, so be aware that you will not be able to travel out of the country until you get it back. Sad, right? As part of the documents, you may need to provide a proof of sufficient funds (bring a copy of your bank statement, or have your bank write a letter confirming you do indeed have the required funds). The passport picture needs to be UK size, which is not the same as the regular passport pictures you can get anywhere in Canada. If you bring the wrong picture size, you will have to book another appointment and go back. So plan ahead! In Ottawa, there is a very handy little shop in the Westgate Shopping Centre not too far from the Visa Application Center that can take passport pictures in the required format. I would recommend getting the picture beforehand, as they might not be as nice to you as they were to me in allowing me to come back later.

When you arrive at your appointment (make sure to be there 10-15 minutes before), you will have some more paperwork to fill, so bring a pen with you. You should just bring your paperwork and said pen with you as you have to go through a security check. Not bringing a bag simply makes the process quicker. You will have to leave all your electronics at the reception. An agent will bring you the papers to fill in, and when there are ready for you, someone will come and escort you to a small office, where they will double check all in the information, take another picture of you as well as your fingerprints, before putting all your application paperwork in an envelope and courier it to New York.

If there are any issues they may call you. Otherwise, if all the papers are accurate and included, it is very straight forward. Usually, a decision is made within 10 days. There might be delays obviously depending on the amount of people that apply at the same time as you. Once it is either accepted or rejected, you will receive an email. If accepted, it’s time to get excited and start packing!

Airport chairs in a waiting room

Booking your flight

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, now would be the time to look into it! There are many companies that fly between Canada and the UK so it’s good to shop around. When looking for flights, always keep in mind that in Europe, all the cities are much closer than Canada. For example; if you are looking to go to Scotland, compare the prices to fly into Glasgow, Edinburgh, London or any of the many international airports. You can easily find cheap buses and trains (if you book them ahead of time). Sometimes the price difference is worth it. Researching for flights can sound like a boring part, but if you choose right, when you get there it’s going to be easier. If you are flexible with your departure date, tick the “+/- 3 days” or “flexible date” box. While I do suggest booking a place to sleep for your first night, keep in mind that flexibility when travelling is key to finding great deals, meeting interesting people and having amazing experiences you would not have had if everything was planned to the dot.

Most Europeans airport have buses that go from the airport to the city centre, so it’s worth checking it out. It may take slightly longer than a taxi, but you will more likely save a lot as well. (This doesn’t always apply if you travel with a few friends, so do your homework!)

I rarely have currency before I arrive in a new city because truth be told, ATMs are everywhere. Make sure to tell your bank before you go so your card doesn’t get declined! Most ATMs are part of either PLUS, NYCE, Cirrus or Maestro network, but always check before using the machine that the logo on the back of your bank card is posted somewhere on the ATM. If you can’t see the logo, you will probably be able to get money out but you’ll just get another fee added to your bank’s transaction fees.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is a must. This also needs some shopping around to find the right insurance provider and the right coverage for you. Make sure to include emergency medical. You may be ok with not taking insurance on your luggage, and just buying everything should your suitcase not make it with you. But do not take any chances with emergency medical as fees vary greatly from country to country, and should you need to have emergency surgery or any other treatment, it will make a huge dent in your travel budget! Depending on the province or territory you are from, you may be eligible to keep your provincial health insurance. In that instance, you just need to buy additional medical insurance. Once again, this requires research and reading the fine print. A lot of the insurance policies will not cover extreme sports, or what they consider to be extreme so make sure to ask about the exclusions.

Backpack on, ready to enter the departure area at the airport

Packing your bags

The only piece of advice worth mentioning is Pack Light!!! You are very likely to be carrying your stuff on your back, so packing light will make everything easier. From getting in a crowded underground, walking a few kilometers to the hostel, or even just fitting the bags next to your bed will be a lot easier with a smaller bag.

Most first time travellers and even some seasoned travellers (Guilty!) pack a lot of just-in-case stuff. Remember, you will be travelling to cities, where people live, work, wash their clothes and buy stuff. While it may not be the same brand you are used to, shampoo, toothpaste, over the counter medications will be widely available. Don’t bring two years worth of supplies!

One other thing to keep in mind: you will very likely be walking in shops at some point and want to buy the latest fashion or some item of clothing you will fall in love with. Keep some room in your luggage for these; they make the best of souvenirs, because every time you wear them, it’s going to remind you of the city, place, of even friends you were with when you bought it.

It’s funny how you might think that you carry so little compared to some other travellers with huge backpacks and then you meet someone carrying only a day pack. All is a question of perspective, but you can usually tell if this is the first time abroad or if they have been on the roads for years just looking at the luggage size.

Enough with the rambling; here are my essentials for travels in ever changing climates. Feel free to bring less and make it your own of course!

Clothing

3-4 t-shirts

1 nicer shirt (for possible job interviews)

1 pair of jeans

1 nicer black pants (useful for job interviews or to go out)

1 pair of shorts or a skirt

1-2 cute bra, 1 sports bra

5-7 panties

3-4 pairs of socks including 1 warmer set

1 warm sweater

1 raincoat (You may want to consider rain pants if you are going to be hiking in the wilderness of Scotland)

1 cap (to protect from the sun)

1 beanie

1 pair of day walking shoes (easily can be replaced with hiking shoes if that’s what you plan to do)

1 pair of flip-flop (great for walking around hostels, or for the odd warm enough day!)

1 pair of ballerina shoes or something small you can wear when you don’t feel like wearing hiking shoes

Electronics

camera, spare battery, charger

computer and/or phone with charger(s)

travel adapter

Pharmacy

pain medicine like ibuprofen and anything else you use regularly (Anything else you can buy once you are there if needed)

tiny first aid kit including some dressings (band-aid or plaster depending on where you are from), cleansing wipes. You don’t need to carry out a huge first aid kit, as they are widely available should you need something more. And again, there are pharmacies where you can buy anything needed when actually needed!)

condoms, always useful to avoid unplanned surprises!

shampoo, conditioner, soap (bring small size containers as you will be able to buy more as you go. Lush solid shampoos are great as they don’t leak in your bags and they smell so great!)

sunblock

tooth brush, tooth paste, floss

feminine hygiene products (I love my DivaCup and don’t think I will go back to anything else)

make-up, bring the basics only: mascara, eyeliner, lip gloss (or whatever you need to feel comfortable)

jewellery- just 2 sets of earrings are enough. If you are anything like me again, you will want to buy some as you go as souvenirs.

Other stuff

pack towel or pareo

1 washcloth

sunglasses

glasses, contacts (if you wear them of course!) and the liquid that goes with them

small flashlight (great when you need some light to see where you are going in a dorm without waking everybody up)

reusable water bottle, I like the platypus kind or one you can clip on your bag

a small notebook to write down bus schedule, or any relevant information as you go plus a pen

a diary to keep track of what you do, what you feel and who you meet

sleeping bag liner (I like the silk looking ones as they don’t take much room, and can make you feel more comfortable, in less than average hostels)

travel spork (all-in-one travel spoon fork knife) and foldable bowl (perfect for lunch on the go or to keep leftovers when cooking)

Deciding on where to go and what to see

This is the fun part, even though it can quickly become overwhelming. My advice is this: make a list of all your must-see, ideally in your small notebook. Then pick one place to start with and forget the rest!

After a while on the road, it’s very funny to see how your travel taste change, and how some of your must-sees now became, nice-to-go-if-I-get-around-to-it.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself trying to find all the information beforehand. One thing worth checking out is if there are any holidays or special events happening when you will be arriving in a city, because sometimes everything will be booked months prior, and you’ll end up stressing out, or forced to change your plans. Once again, being flexible is the way to go in order to appreciate your travels. Delays, overbooking, tiredness are all part of the experience, and learning how to be flexible and adapt quickly is the best gift you can give yourself in order to appreciate your upcoming challenges.

As you travel, you will meet fellow travellers and they will tell you about secret gems in the country you are in. In my experience, those are the best places and experiences. Of course, if you find amazing things to do and places to go, share your insights!

The world is a very big place, and you can’t see everything. And that’s ok! Try not to rush to see all the must-see, a walk around a neighborhood you feel comfortable in can make your day a lot better. It may allow you to meet locals, and have great conversation. Or maybe you’ll discover this little gem of a coffee shop or pub. Allowing the unknown in your life, this is what travelling is about. Learning to live with constant change, exchanging with people from different backgrounds and discovering all the things you have in common, to me, that’s the best part.

Opening a UK bank account

One would think that opening a bank account would be fairly easy, I mean I want to give a bank my money. But because of all the money-laundering, it’s getting more difficult nowadays to open a simple bank account. First of all, you need to book an appointment. Then, you need IDs and proof of address. Quite simple really.

If you’ve lived somewhere for a while, you obviously have bills, a place you call home and can easily prove your address. But when you just moved somewhere and are renting a room, all the utility bills will most likely be under someone else’s name. So how can you prove you live where you say you do without bills? That’s the question I was facing when trying to open a bank account. There used to be some banks that were more opened to providing bank accounts to foreigners, but in the city I moved to, they don’t have a branch.

I had asked my employers to provide me with a letter confirming I would be working there, but because at the time I did not have an address yet, they did not include it on the letter. When I went to the bank with my contract and the letter, I was told both my current address and previous Canadian address needed to be on the letter. So basically, the letter needs to be on letterhead, include the contact numbers, being signed by my employer, include my full name, and complete addresses and the date of my employment. It also needs to be dated less than 3 months old.

Once I got the letter and went back to the bank, it was simple to open the account. If you are like me, though, you might face another challenge. When you open your bank account they send you your bank card and your PIN in two different envelopes. Somehow, my PIN was sent in Scotland and my actual bank card at my dad’s place in Canada. I had to go back into the bank and ask them to resend the card. Overall it was quite a lengthy process and I was very happy once I received my bank card and could finally have access to local currency!

Subscribing to National Insurance Number

It’s called National Insurance Number, but it actually is your personal number used to collect taxes, and eventually to allow you into the Health Care System.

On their website, it says that you need to phone, and they will send you the documents to fill out and return to them. Make sure to double check the spelling on your paperwork once you receive it as my name had changed quite a bit. Once you fill the paper, you mail it back and wait to hear back. It usually takes about 8 weeks, so there is no need to phone them before that. Your employer might be impatiently waiting for your National Insurance Number by then, so as soon as you have it make sure to provide it to them!

Finding a place to live

This could be the hardest thing to do, and it should come fairly quickly after deciding where you want to work. If you are like me, though, you might be very lucky and the guy who hosted you on Couchsurfing might have an extra room available in the flat, next door to your work. If you don’t have such luck, make sure to browse the local classifieds both online and in the paper. Also telling everybody you meet that you are looking for a room or an apartment will also increase your chances of finding something as a lot of the flats or rooms are not advertised.

Finding a job

There are many ways to do this. I was quite lucky with my first job assignment, as I sent my resume before moving to the UK, and was called in for an interview, which led to me being offered the job. I was looking for temporary work and this was what was on the offer. It was mostly a question of skills and timing.

The best way to find a job is probably to talk to people, use the jobs centers and job boards. The process is the same as in Canada. You send your resume, get called in for an interview, wow them with your skills and personality, and get the job. Or not.

Meeting new friends

Go out! Don’t stay indoor in your apartment because your future friends won’t be able to find you! There might be CouchSurfing groups, meetups, etc. Look into that. Talk to your colleagues. If they invite you out, go! Now is not the time to be shy, or picky!

Keep an open mind, take a deep breath when things are not going the way you want them to and be flexible! Enjoy every minute of your experience, both the good and the difficult as you will remember your experience of living abroad for the rest of your life.

Are you ready to take the next step in your life?

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