The stress is over. You have successfully received your passport and vignette allowing you to call the UK your temporary home. Your flight is booked, you have a place to stay while you hunt for flats, everything is organized. Well, there are still a few things you need to do before you are officially a UK resident: open a bank account, get your National Insurance (NI) number, and register with the National Health Service (NHS).
I’ll be covering those three tasks in this post, but keep an eye out for upcoming posts about looking for a job and finding a flat. In case you’ve gotten ahead of yourself, trying going back to this post about how to get a youth mobility visa (for Canadians).
Opening a Bank Account
There are two options for opening a bank account: open an international account in Canada with HSBC before leaving or open an account upon arrival.
A lot of people have emailed to ask whether it is possible to open a UK account prior to arriving. The short answer is not really. I spoke with my partner’s father who is an accountant to see if he could open one on my behalf. Essentially, he could but I would still have to go in person to provide my identification so it really wouldn’t have sped up the process.
Research all of your options before arriving. I was recommended Nationwide because they have the best rates, but other banks include Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays, the Co-Operative Bank, Santander… After researching, I opted to go with Barclays because they are quite good with new arrivals opening accounts – many banks require a utility bill or other proof of address, which I did not need for an account with Barclays. Also, they are part of the Global ATM Alliance which means I could access them through Scotiabank in Canada and vice versa.
What You Need:
- Passport with work permit
- Your face
- A token amount of money to deposit (if you want)
- Telephone number and address mail can be sent to
- Book an appointment. I was able to do this over the phone from Canada so that I had an appointment immediately upon arrival. I had read that there can be a delay on getting an appointment so I did it early.
- Go to your appointment, fill out form with your account manager
- Wait for your card and PIN to arrive in the mail
My bank account was available on the spot and I was able to deposit money immediately. I was given a sort code and account number which meant I could give it to my employer, if needed. The sort code is a 6 digit number, similar to the transit number in Canadian accounts.
If you don’t have an address for sending mail to, opt for online statements. You will also have to arrange to pick up your PIN Sentry reader from the bank. The PIN Sentry was totally new to me – it looks like a little calculator and you put your debit card into the machine, enter your PIN and it gives you a unique code allowing you to sign in to your online banking. You also need it for making any bank transfers, where you follow the same process.
I must say, banking in the UK is so much easier than in Canada (and France!). Most things can be done online and there is none of this business of void cheques and other nonsense that wastes your time. It’s also a simple process to make international bank transfers.
Update It appears that Barclays is being extra strict about bank account documents. A few friends and readers have recommended Lloyds instead!
Now that you have a bank account, you technically have proof of address – most places will accept a bank statement as this document. So the next thing to do is:
Apply for your NI Number
Your National Insurance number is similar to the Social Insurance Number (SIN) you receive in Canada. It’s used for administering the UK’s social security system as well as some tax purposes. You need to provide it to your employer when you start working. Don’t worry if you need to start working before you receive the number, your employer will provide you with an emergency tax code, which means they will deduct a preset amount of tax that is likely be higher than you would normally pay (unless you have a crazy high salary – go you!). It will be accounted for on your next paycheques.
What You Need:
- Photocopy of passport
- Photocopy of work permit vignette
- An address you can receive mail to
- Call Job Centre Plus (0845 600 0643). Have your passport and work permit to hand because they ask you for the details.
- Wait for the application package to arrive. They send you a pack of forms. You fill them out, send them back with the accompanying documents to the Job Centre.
- Attend interview (if requested). I was not asked to have an interview, but they do ask some people to come in.
You must have arrived in the UK before applying as your work permit must have been validated. The form is also quite intensive, so make sure you fill them out carefully. There are a lot of pages and some of the questions don’t apply to everyone.
I sorted this out within my first days of arriving in London and by the time I had a job, I had my NI number. It was delayed because of a backlog of applications, but once I called to check on it, they were quite helpful. I was able to start paying the correct amount of national insurance on my paycheques and the right amount of PAYE (Pay as You Earn) tax.
This is a relatively simple process, so don’t overthink it.
Register with NHS
Once you have your bank account and NI number, registering with the NHS is easy. Don’t worry about not being covered on your arrival. The NHS provides emergency services to anyone – I actually had a problem with my eye soon after arriving and was seen at the Moorfields Eye Hospital a number of times.
What You Need:
- Proof of address (utility bill, bank statement, etc.)
- Passport with visa
- Find out where your local General Practitioner (GP) surgery is. It is based on where you live – in London, it is the specific borough. Go there with your proof of identity and address and tell them you would like to register.
- Fill out the forms provided. I received one from the practice and one from the NHS.
- Return them to the GP office
Based on a question I received, you should be aware that technically, you may pay fees to use the NHS (except emergencies) until you are either:
1) Employed or self-employed and paying National Insurance; OR
2) You have been living here for more than a year.
GPs can use their own discretion to register migrant patients but you may be subject to fees for health services.
This is directly from the application guidance document:
The Department of Health regulations currently allow Youth Mobility Scheme participants to be exempt from charges for NHS hospital treatment after they have spent a period of 12 months in the United Kingdom. They will also be exempt during periods of employment (including self-employment) in the first 12 months of their stay, but not during periods in that first 12 months when they are not working. Information on entitlement to free hospital treatment can be accessed via the link: www.dh.gov.uk/
- The above has probably changed now that there is the Immigration Health Surcharge.
It took a couple of months before I received the physical card with my number on it, but there is a national system that has the details in there so you don’t need your card with you at all times. Most Brits probably think I’m crazy, but I think the NHS is awesome! Everything is straightforward,family planning and sexual health services are covered, and the waits to see specialists aren’t that bad. Of course, I’m used to OHIP wait times…
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Honestly, these things are actually quite straightforward and there is no need to worry. Finding a flat and a job…now that’s a different story! Also, if you’re ever concerned or have a question, just call someone. I’ve actually found people to be really helpful. Except the Royal Mail who lost my birthday card. I’m not so happy about that.
Update The Royal Mail did not lose my birthday card. They delivered registered mail without having anyone sign for it and my flatmate doesn’t have the mailbox key…but I did get my birthday card 🙂