It has already been two years since I moved to the UK to study…so, what do I think? How do I like it? Is it worth settling here? Should you do it too? Well, if you have opened this article, wondering about any of these questions, you should probably keep on reading.
I am Alix, I am 20 and left my country (Italy) two years ago to study in England and these are my top 6 things you should know before moving to the UK.
1. Obtaining the NIN (National Insurance Number) is fundamental to work.
The NIN consists of an identification number assigned to each individual who intends to work in the country and which is used to reference you within the taxation system, held by the HMRC (Her Majesty Revenues and Customs). To get it, you will simply need to contact the Jobcentre Plus (a governmental employment agency) closest to you and schedule an appointment — which, depending on the time of the year you are calling, might not be available before a few weeks. For this reason, I would advise you to either call as soon as you arrive or (if you already have an accommodation secured) right before, so to save some time. The NIN is also used for many other public services (e.g. doctor, dentist, any kind of benefit), reason why I recommend you apply for it even if you do not plan on working.
2. Proof of address: the ultimate document; your best friend and your worst enemy.
While in some countries this might be the norm, coming from Italy, I have encountered a few difficulties getting through the most basic tasks — such as opening a bank account — because I was staying at a University accommodation and since my course had not started yet, I could not be provided with it. Similarly, when my father moved here a year later, he also had the same issue, due to the fact that he was temporarily renting a room in a private house (whose owner was not able to produce such document). The problem persists today for him, as he is renting a house from a private owner and has no other means of proving his address.
Some of the documents that can be used as a proof of address are: home-phone bills, utility bills, TV license, rental agreement (although this should be issued by a realtor), etc.
3. Banking and Monzo-ing: which one suits you better?
Once you have a proof of address and a NIN/job (the latter not being a requirement generally, but highly advisable), you are ready to set up a bank account. However, what if you do not have a proof of address? Let’s say that you are in my situation when I first moved here. How did I manage to get my wage paid and use it? Obviously, I could not provide my employer with a foreign bank account, but thanks to some close family friends who already lived here, I was “referred” to Monzo.
Monzo is an online bank which allows you to set up a bank account in a few clicks using their mobile app (Note: there is no web version; the whole system would run on your smartphone) and get a fully functioning debit card within a few days straight to your door. It is extremely easy to use and handy, with no fees and the possibility to separate your money into “pots” — virtual piggy banks that if you have over £1,000 can generate interests just as a regular saving account! I am not a sponsor, but given how helpful it was for me, I would definitely recommend it.
4. Neighborhoods matter and so does your social and financial status.
It might sound slightly odd to some, but living here, I have fully acknowledged the fact that — notwithstanding how kind and polite people can be — we are all constantly judging and being judged. This could put some pressure on some, but on the other hand it is an effective tool for those who put an actual effort into what they do (be it work or even keeping their car clean), since this is often appreciated and praised.
Consequently, your rent, the quality of the streets, the types of shops and restaurants, the houses and basically anything that goes on around your house will be significantly determined by the area where you decide to live in. Thus, I would personally take my time when considering different options, since one or two-hundred pounds might make a huge difference!
Funnily enough, you can observe this just by going to a supermarket: these are basically “categorized” depending on the price range of their products. Now, this does not stop to the amount of money that your groceries might require, but also to the way products are displayed, the aisles organized, how clenased are all surfaces kept, how fresh the ingredients might be and so on and so forth.
5. Life is expensive, but the wage is proportionate.
When my parents decided to relocate, many of their friends where skeptical about such decision, since all we say about the UK is that it is always raining and that life is too expensive. Nonetheless, what is not being considered when making such statements is who would living in the UK be expensive for. In fact, if you take an average Italian wage and try to live on it here, you would probably end up being homeless or starving — no hyperbole intended. This is because we reason in euros and we often consider what one would spend as a tourist (which, at least from my experience, is not the type of lifestyle I want to have).
After my first full month of work as a full-time (on a zero-hour contract) team member at a takeaway chain, I managed to gain more than what my father was making as an electrical engineer back in Italy. This, besides being agonizingly unfair, can truly let you understand how the pay here works and it would probably not come as much of a surprise if I told you that over that very first summer I managed to save up a few thousand pounds!
6. Housing…a bit of a pain.
Undoubtedly, one of the most expensive aspects about living in the UK is the rent. Do not get mistaken, you can find great deals, amazing solutions at a very affordable prize. Yet, generally it is a bit harder both to find the right house and eventually sign off a contract. With the rent and the council tax (a tax paid to reside in a certain town and that can vary depending on various factors) representing the biggest expenses one could normally have every month, the rest — food, bills, etc. — will seem more than affordable than they are in other countries.
Also, when you first rent a house here, chances are that they will ask you for a “guarantor”, that is an adult UK resident with a job and a good credit history, thus being able to pay for the rent if you are not able to. But some of us do not know anyone who qualifies for it and can help us. So, several companies have been set up with the main aim of serving as guarantors; HOWEVER, when I was looking for a house with different realtors, none of them accepted these companies as guarantors, and if we could not find a physical person to do it, we should have paid 6/12 months of rent in advance. The way we managed to overcome this problem was finding a landlord who accepted foreign individuals as guarantor.