Living in England has always been a dream of mine. But when I started looking into it seriously after my study abroad in Nottingham, I realized just how difficult it is to move permanently to another country. If you’re generally thinking of going abroad long-term, check out my post on 10 Ways to Actually Leave the Country (and Travel). But if you’re wondering how to specifically move to the UK? I’m sorry to say that it’s not that easy, even though US citizens are incredibly privileged globally. Visas are stressful and require so much time, energy, money, and paperwork. But there are ways to do it.
I’m not a visa expert or a lawyer, so you should visit the UK Government website to find out the most up-to-date rules, regulations, and requirements about visas. These types of things change frequently, and the government will always have the most recent information. And it’s important to remember that any long-term (6+ months) visa will make you pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) as part of your application, which will give you access to the National Health Service (NHS), the UK’s nationalized healthcare. How much you pay for your IHS will depend on the type and length of visa you are applying for. So with that disclaimer out of the way, if you are a US citizen and hoping to get to the UK, good luck! Here are your main options:
For US citizens, this is just a stamp in our passport as we go through customs. But I felt that it is worth noting that US citizens can stay in the UK for up to 6 months (in a 12-month period). You will not be eligible to work (therefore earn money), so you will need to be able to prove, with bank statements, that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay. You also won’t be able to access the NHS, the UK’s National Health Service. And remember, it’s 6 months within a one-year period, so you can’t just pop out of the UK for a weekend, then head back in—your 6 months won’t start over. But it’s entirely possible to visit and travel around for a lengthy period of time!
This is specifically for people wanting to get married in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), not for actually moving or settling. But if your dream has always been to get married in London, or in the Scottish Highlands, or anywhere else in the UK, you will need to apply for this before you go. The assumption is that you will get married (or register a civil partnership) in the UK, and then leave. You will not be able to work in the UK—if you are marrying a British citizen/resident, you will need to apply as a fiancé(e) for a partner (settlement) visa (see below) as well as a marriage visa.
Student (Tier 4) visa
Perhaps the most widely accessible visa for US citizens is a student visa. Unfortunately the specifics are a bit hazy for me, since I did this visa application with loads of help from the study abroad office at my school for my program in Nottingham. But more or less, you need to be accepted into a UK university in order to be eligible for this visa. You’ll be able to study with the visa, as well as (generally) working up to 20 hrs/week at most jobs during term time, and up to 40 hrs/week over holidays. The Tier visas (like the Tier 4 Student, Tier 2 Work, and Tier 5 Temporary Work in this post) are points-based, which means that all the information you provide gives you points, and you need a certain number of points to receive the visa. You get points based on your sponsorship (a university), the amount of money you have to pay for school and support yourself, and your knowledge of English. All of this will vary depending on the length of the visa you’re applying for (how long you will be studying in the UK).
Cost: £328, plus Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)—which will vary depending on the length of your visa
Work (Tier 2 General) visa
There are a million types of work visas for the UK, depending on what job you’ll be doing. It is tricky to get a Tier 2 General work visa—first of all, you have to prove to a company or organization that you are better suited for the job than any other UK citizen that applied. The company also needs to be licensed by the UK government to offer sponsorship—and to be honest, a lot of companies don’t offer sponsorship. In order to be eligible for the visa, you have to be offered a skilled job (nurses, doctors, engineering and science jobs are typically the main areas that have a shortage of workers in the UK), and your job must have an annual salary of £20,800 or more. The maximum amount of time your visa will be valid for is 5 years. To be honest, in my experience very few places offer visa sponsorship. For most people, I think your best bet would be to see if the company you work for has a branch in the UK, and think about transferring abroad. Although work visas can certainly be done, I would say that they are nearly impossible for young people, who don’t have decades of experience.
Cost: The cost will depend on two things—whether your visa is for up to 3 years or up to 5 years, and whether it is for a shortage occupation or not. You will also have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), the cost of which will depend on how long your visa is for. Fees are as follows:
-Up to 3 years: £575
-Up to 3 years (shortage occupation): £437
-More than 3 years: £1151
-More than 3 years (shortage occupation): £873
Short-term (Tier 5) Temporary Worker visa with BUNAC sponsorship
For young Americans hoping to get to Britain, I would advise this visa as the easiest way to go (after a student visa). BUNAC is an international organization that supports young people living/working abroad. They will sponsor a Tier 5 (temporary) visa that allows you to “intern” in Britain—although it doesn’t necessarily need to be a specific internship, but could sometimes be a work placement or job in general. The visa is valid for up to 6 months, and is only eligible for university students, either while you’re in school or a recent graduate (of up to 12 months). The catch is that it’s a bit pricey—you have to pay BUNAC to sponsor you, and pay for the visa. You’ll also need to have a certain amount of savings in your bank account to be eligible (typically £945 or equivalent). You’ll also need to have an internship offer set up before you can start it all (BUNAC doesn’t actually find you work). However, it is one of the best programs out there for young people as it gives you full sponsorship and a chance to work in the UK for up to 6 months. A good friend of mine did this for one summer in college, so I know a bit more about it than the other UK visas that I haven’t applied for myself. You can read more about the program on BUNAC’s website here.
Cost: ~$750 for BUNAC for sponsorship, £230 for the actual visa, and you will need to have health insurance that covers you in the UK.
Short-term (Tier 5) Charity Worker visa
This visa is a bit trickier, but if you’re planning on volunteering in the UK, you’ll need this visa. The Tier 5 (Charity Worker) visa is really similar to the Tier 5 visa that BUNAC can sponsor you for to intern in Britain. However, with the Tier 5 Charity Worker visa you aren’t allowed to receive any payments for your work—it’s strictly for volunteers. The visa is valid for up to 12 months, and you need to have a certificate of sponsorship from your sponsor (“employer”/organization you’re volunteering with). You’ll also generally need to have £945 in savings. Generally speaking, if you are volunteering abroad through a well-known/large organization, they will have plenty of information about applying for the visa. I have never applied for this visa and don’t know anyone personally who has gotten this visa, so I encourage you to consult the UK Government website!
Cost: £230, plus the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)
This is the visa I’m least knowledgeable about, so bear with me. But it sounds like a pretty good deal: if you can prove that one (or more) of your grandparents were born in the UK, you will be eligible for the UK ancestry visa. You can stay in the UK for 5 years with this visa, or apply to settle permanently in the UK. You must be 17 or over and have enough money to support yourself without public funds. You can work and study freely with this visa, which makes it a good one! The tricky thing is, you have to be able to prove at least one of your grandparents was born in the UK with documents and paperwork. You’ll need to send in your birth certificate, and the birth certificates of the relevant parent/grandparent your ancestry claim is based on. If you’re eligible for this visa and wanting to move to the UK, you should look into the paperwork and seriously consider applying.
Cost: £405, plus Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)
Partner (settlement) visa
This is the current visa I’m on, and since it’s the most recent UK visa I’ve applied for, I understand the application process for this one the best. In order to be eligible, you must have a relationship with a UK citizen or resident as a spouse, same-sex civil partner, or unmarried partner (that you’ve lived with for a minimum of 2 years). I wrote this very lengthy article on How to Get a UK Partner Visa, which has much more information. The visa is for 2.5 years, after which time you can apply to extend it for another 2.5 years. After living in the UK for these 5 years, you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, a fancy way of saying the UK can’t kick you out (you can apply for citizenship after you have Indefinite Leave to Remain).
Cost: £1195, plus IHS (£600)
Have you ever applied for a UK visa before? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!