Working in London
For many professionals seeking to put their career on a definitive upward trajectory, the opportunity to work in London is a chance coveted by many. The city of London, known as the "Square Mile," and a global financial center, a leader in world-class technology, innovation, and architecture, continues to attract top foreign talent, the biggest companies and investment money from around the globe. Indeed, working in London could be the crown jewel in one's resumé.
Working in the UK
The United Kingdom is one of the world's most powerful economies for centuries, kickstarting the Industrial Revolution, and becoming a formidable financial powerhouse. It continues to be one of the top preferred destinations for expats looking to improve their careers in what is considered a global city in the world. In HSBC's latest Expat Explorer Survey, over 9,000 expats currently based in the UK cited "career progression" as their foremost reason for moving.
Despite the Brexit vote in 2016, many expats found their way into Britain to work in various industries, including the financial institutions along Canary Wharf, as well as in the creative industries and information technology, among others. Many made the choice of living and working in London, and now count themselves among the denizens of Central London, in sectors such as investment banking, insurance, film and media, and more.
Get the Work Visa You Need
Unless you're a European Union citizen or hail from an EFTA (European Free Trade Association) country, you are absolutely required to obtain a work visa in order to live and work in the UK. It's best to find a job earlier and secure a job offer prior to moving to London, and then get a work permit. If you're moving to the UK with the purpose of finding a job in London, you may also consult the UK government's Shortage Occupation List which may help in expediting the processing of your work visa.
No visa is needed to live and work in the UK if you can prove that you're a citizen of a country recognized by the UK government as a Commonwealth Nation. Those who have British ancestry can also try to secure a UK Ancestry visa which allows one to live, work, study and even settle in the UK permanently if you meet the eligibility criteria.
The UK's points-based immigration system offers different types of work visas available in five "tiers" that help regulate immigration into Britain outside of the European Economic Area (EEA). There are officially five tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4 and Tier 5. With the exception of several subcategories of Tier 1 and Tier 3, all other tiers are available for applicants.
Tier 1 Visas: Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Exceptional Talent
The Tier 1 Entrepreneur and Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visas are for those who wish to create or take over an existing business in the UK. To be eligible, the entrepreneurs must either be company directors or self-employed in the businesses they are involved with and must have funds amounting to at least GBP 200,000. Those who eligible for these visas are allowed three years to remain in the UK, and this may be extended up to two years pending the visa holders' success in investing the funds in their businesses and creating a number of full-time jobs during the initial three-year period.
The Tier 1 Investor visa requires applicants to invest at least GBP 2 million in share capital in British companies or in UK bonds. Successful Tier 1 Investor visa holders may apply to settle into the UK after two years if they invest GBP 10 million, or after three years if they invest GBP 5 million.
Applicants for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa must be recognized or at least have the potential to be recognized as exceptionally talented in the arts, humanities, digital technology, sciences, engineering or medicine. The visa is initially valid for up to five years and four months.
Tier 2: Long-Term Work Visas
The Tier 2 visas cater to skilled, non-EU nationals who have received a job offer from a licensed sponsor, and an accompanying certificate of sponsorship. Any organization or company who wishes to sponsor a worker must register with the UK Visas and Immigration's register of licensed sponsors which also includes their respective ratings and locations. Once your employer is accepted into the register, they can apply to the UK Visas and Immigration department to receive an annual allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS). In turn, your employer-sponsor gives you a CoS required to apply for a work visa outside the UK or for an extension of stay, if you're already in Britain.
Just like the Tier 1 visas, Tier 2 visas also have subcategories which include the General work visa and the Intra Company Transfer (ICT) visa. Those applying for a Tier 2 General work visa must have a valid job offer and a Certificate of Sponsorship from a legitimate organization or company in the UK, and be paid at least GBP 30,000 annually or the appropriate rate for the job you are offered based on the UK Immigration's rules, depending on which is higher.
The Intra Company Transfer (ICT) visa has two types, one for Long-term Staff who are being transferred to another position within the company, and have been working for the organization for more than one year; the other is for Graduate Trainees designed for specialist roles. Those applying for the Graduate Trainee visa must be a recent graduate with at least three months' experience in the sponsoring company overseas.
For a majority of expats moving to the UK, especially those who are moving to London on assignment, the ICT visa is what they need. The ICT visa also requires a valid job offer, a Certificate of Sponsorship, and the appropriate salary for the job you're offered or the minimum salary required for your visa – whichever is higher. For Long-term Staff, the UK Visas and Immigration department sets the amount at GBP 41,500.
Applicants for the Tier 2 General work and ICT visas may also be required to have a minimum of GBP 945 in their bank account for at least three months prior to applying for the work visa as proof of self-support. If your sponsor is listed with an A rating in the register, you may not need proof of funding in your bank account.
Aside from the visa application fees, people applying for a visa from outside the EEA for the purpose of working, studying or joining their family in the UK for more than six months – but not remain permanently in the UK – need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). This Health Surcharge entitles the visa holder to 100 percent free healthcare under the UK's National Health Service (NHS). The Immigration Health Surcharge is required even if you already have private health insurance.
Get more information about the United Kingdom's immigration and visa requirements at https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration.
Expat Salaries in London
London is one of Europe's most expensive cities and commands a high cost of living. Recent events have affected the value of the British pound and inflation is also driving up costs. What does your company cover upon moving to London? Is your base salary adequate for housing expenses and education? How about health insurance or transport costs? How much should you be earning if you're living in London?
A Bloomberg report in 2018 indicated that expats in London earn an average salary of USD 107,900, slightly higher than the global average of USD 99,000. The HSBC Survey itself shows a figure of GBP 66,670 as the average salary of the UK expats they interviewed, with many reporting a 29 percent increase in salary when they moved to Britain. But is this enough to get by in a country known for its high costs of living?
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), there are 1.24 people from outside the European Union working in the UK in 2018, an increase of 34,000 from 2017. The ONS also released its annual report on employee earnings in the UK in April 2018. London topped the list among the workplace regions with a weekly median salary of GBP 713 for employees working full time, which is higher by GBP 144 in the UK entirely. According to the report, the high median salaries in London reflects a large number of workers in high-paying industries and jobs, plus allowances given to employees who work in London.
While expat salaries may vary greatly, housing costs are the biggest expense even among expats. Food, healthcare, education, transport, utilities, and leisure will take up the rest of your expenses. This Minimum Income Calculator, created by the independent charitable foundation Trust for London, helps determine how much you should be earning while living in London with three simple questions: where you live in London, how many adults and children in your family, and their ages. Thus, a couple of working age with two children in primary school should earn at least GBP 26,936 each year at their job in London to have a decent standard of living.
For more information about the National Minimum Wage in the UK, please visit https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates.