There are so many elements to consider when starting a new life in another Country. Between packing, travelling and settling, some details may be forgotten. However, it seems like those aspects that were the least of your priorities came back to haunt you after months. I experienced this myself on multiple occasions and I wished I could have had a list of essentials compiled for me. If you are looking to move to the UK or you recently arrived, here is a checklist of the 5 most important things you need to do or have immediately after you set foot there.
Buy a bus pass
During my first year in Southampton, I think I took the bus only a couple of times. There is no exact reason I didn’t use this service as often as now. However, my proximity to the University campus and the main shops might have been the motive behind it. Last semester, I realised that it was pointless to walk to Uni under the rain, risking getting a cold and being stuck in bed for days.
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, especially when you can’t spare time to get a proper workout done. Nevertheless, you might consider buying a bus ticket. Different companies offer a variety of subscriptions to their services. Based on your necessities, you may prefer obtaining a year pass or extend your subscription weekly.
As an international student who goes home often, the most sensible option for me to renew it periodically, instead of buying a yearly ticket. If I use my mom as an example, although she has stayed with me for almost a month in January, we renewed her pass each week. If we knew we were not going out at all, she would pay her fare on the bus, avoiding wasting money on a service we would not require.
Make a quick search online to see which routes you might need for work, doing your grocery shopping and getting to the town centre. After this, you can decide which company suits you and which plan adapts best to your necessities. My tip is to get a card that you are able to top up on the go.
Buy a UK sim card
Although we should have free roaming all over Europe and we would assume that our own mobile number is perfectly fine, trust me, it is not. I had to learn this with time. I would have saved so much energy, if I had known that most people do not call international numbers.
When moving to another Country, it is of the utmost importance to communicate with people and make emergency calls. Keep in mind that not every emergency number in the UK can be called with your Country’s sim card.
If you are planning on getting groceries delivered – especially if you don’t own a car or you live too far from the supermarket to carry heavy bags home – you need to provide a UK telephone. Don’t be fooled by the fact that most of the internet forms allow you to type your number. Even though it seems there’s no problem with it, drivers won’t call you to update you on estimated times of delivery. And they won’t tell you they are waiting for you downstairs.
I’ve had first-hand experience on this, so believe me when I say that you won’t be able to make or receive calls without a sim from the UK. It’s fundamental to keep in touch with everyone and to access a variety of services, ranging from a GP appointment to even a pizza delivery.
Sim cards are available to buy in some supermarkets, such as Asda and Tesco. Different providers like O2 and giffgaff will post it to your address, so you can avoid the hustle of going out to get one and not knowing where to go.
Register with a GP
GPs, or General Practitioners, are your go-to family doctors. In other Countries they have different names, but you can think of them as those doctors that can prescribe general medicines, perform health checks and refer you to specialist doctors.
Do a quick search online to see which doctors or surgeries are closer to you and accepting new patients. Doctors might allow you to register online and get your NHS number home, delivered to your address. Make sure you give them the correct details and you know your health history. Whether you complete the registration online or at the doctor’s office, you will need to give them a general idea of surgeries and conditions you had or have and the prescribed medicines you are taking.
Open a bank account
When it comes to opening a bank account, you need to check the conditions that each bank offers to international students or workers. It might seem obvious, but not all charge you for receiving money from other Countries or in other currencies. Some will not accept you as a customer if you don’t earn money directly. What I mean by this is that if you are a student, some companies won’t allow you to open a bank account on your name, because you do not have any kind of income. Others will give you a debit but not a credit card, using the same principle.
My tip is to get an idea of the different contracts before deciding on a bank. Go to the town centre and ask in each branch:
· what are the conditions they apply for international transfers;
· how much they charge for changing the currency, supposing you are not sending pounds;
· if there is a limit on the amount of money you can leave in your account;
· if you need to pay extras when sending money to your landlord, university or any other services.
However, keep in mind that to open a bank account, you need a proof of residence. This is the trickiest part, especially for students. Trust me, you can go to the branch 4 to 5 times before you open an account. Lately, it has become more and more difficult for international students to do it, which is telling you a lot about how the situation is changing in the Country. I was admittedly told that they changed the regulations on this recently.
I went to the branch – I won’t say of what bank – 4 times and I still don’t own a personal bank account in the UK. They said I didn’t need an appointment to open an account and then sent me home because I didn’t make one. The next time, they refused a letter from University stating where I live. The third time they refused a signed letter from the accommodation manager. I’m still waiting for my account to be opened. At this point, I’ll wait until September when I change accommodation, so they don’t come up with this issue as well.
Enough of this rant. To sum up, be prepared to go back and forth, bring the right documents and make sure to specify what you need them for when requesting them.
Get a National Insurance Number
My last tip of the day is to get what is called the National Insurance Number (NINO). In Countries like the UK, if you want to get a stable and well-paid job, you need this number. It’s a social security system – it helps the Government understand whether you are paying taxes, if you have insurance and, most of all, the rights you get being a worker in the UK, as pensions and loans.
The process to get a NINO is straightforward, providing you have a home address where it can be delivered to. If you type NINO in your preferred search engine shows the number you need to call to start the application and what you can expect from it. When you do– now you see why a UK sim card is essential? – the operator asks some basic questions about who you are and why you are requesting the NINO. On the day of the appointment, which you will discuss, you need to bring a form of ID and some extra documents, depending of your Country of birth. You will be told what they need to confirm your identity and send off the application.
Some employers allow you to work without it. However, it’s still a good idea to get it in case it is asked of you. If you are already employed and the NINO officers ask you whether or not you are employed, don’t be afraid of telling them you are. There is no reason you can’t keep working, but it’s fundamental you obtain a National Insurance Number if you are planning to stay in the UK for more than a couple of months.
These were the 5 things I wish I knew from the beginning of my journey. The experience of living abroad can be challenging, and there are some aspects of it that might be forgotten in between. If you want to be prepared for your new life in the UK, check my section Moving To The UK: The Ultimate Guide. Until next time.
Disclaimer: I do not recommend travelling right now. Stay safe, for you and your family.