Moving To The UK: Student or Worker?

Updated: Mar 31



As many of you know, I currently live in Southampton, a town in Southern England, after being for sixth months in Bournemouth, just 40 minutes away from here. When I moved here in September 2018, I had no idea of where to start and I wished I had come more prepared. This first article in the series will focus on the two options – coming as a student or to find a job – you can chose from to start your life in the UK.

The path to follow as a student

Whether you’re a student or someone who just wants to have a fresh start somewhere else, the UK is a great choice. Everything just depends on which route you want to follow. You can actually study and work at the same time, thanks to many part-time courses that are offered at various universities.


A large number of international students are accepted each year. Just think about it: approximately a quarter of the students at the University of Southampton come from another country, making the place multicultural and more vibrant. I enjoy being part of an international community, which is generally well supported by staff and local students. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, the UK offers a wide range of choices in terms of Undergraduate, Masters and PhD programs that suit your profile. The UCAS website is a really useful resource to look around for Universities and courses, and it allows to apply directly after creating an account.


The application mechanism might be a bit tricky in the beginning, as there are so many options and aspects that people from other countries may not think about. One example is entry requirements, which change from university to university and include passing tests to prove your English knowledge. Depending on the course you chose, you need a high school transcript that proves you have obtained the required score in the specified subjects – for Neuroscience, I needed AAA in Chemistry and two other science-related subjects, such as Maths, Biology or Physics. In my case, I didn’t have Chemistry as A level subject and had to complete what’s called the Science Foundation Year, a sort of substitute of A levels for those with different academic backgrounds.


Anyway, it’s best to have an offer from one the universities you have applied to before moving. The outcome of the selection process may not be the one you expected, so waiting until results are out is more sensible. Look out on the website for a future post about the application process.

What if you want to work?

Working in the UK is becoming increasingly more difficult. Rules are changing fast due to Brexit and I would suggest anyone who wants to pursue their career here to act quickly. I feel that this is the hardest path to follow.


If you possess a higher qualification, such as an undergraduate or a graduate degree, this is going to be easier. Sending applications to companies that are looking for employees is straightforward. It only requires a little effort in finding the employer that fits your choice, and lots of patience. Most company sites have an online application form that can be completed and sent back in just half an hour. The best thing to do if you’re not sure about the type of work that you will be doing, or have any question, e-mail the company with your CV. Chances are, it will be looked at and sent to the hiring department. In my experience, it can take you 1 to 2 weeks to get the first reply and approximately the same before you are communicated the outcome of the enquiry. Just be careful: they might ask you to go over for an interview, which is highly valued. Although, to be honest, if they offer you an interview they are definitely interested in your profile.


Coming to the UK as a non-specialised worker is both easier and harder. So many activities display job offers outside and are more than happy to take your CV. The entertainment and food industry tends to flourish, and employers are always looking for personnel. Nevertheless, if you plan on working in restaurants, pubs or anything where you have to show your skills, you have to be in loco. You might find offers online, but it’s always a good idea to take some time and wander around town, to have a look at the different areas and make an estimate of the state of the business – by this I mean whether it looks economically stable and ready to pay for your service. Moreover, as I mentioned above, employers might ask you a trial – a period of time in which you work for them, without a contract, to test your abilities. In this case, make sure you are paid for your work!


In both cases, if you want to work in the UK, you need a National Insurance Number (NIN), which is part of the social security system and allows the Government to record the taxes you are paying. You can apply for it by calling the number that is displayed on the Government website, but you then have to make an appointment to the nearest office. After the appointment, it should take 4 weeks for them to process the request and send the NIN. Some employers make job offers without it and allow you time to get it, but others see it as a prerequisite. However, to get the NIN, you need a UK address where they can send you documentation. This means you have to move here before starting to work.


To do this, you have to establish a budget for at least the first two months of your stay, to rent a room and buy groceries while you are waiting for the first pay-check.

There are so many other aspects that you need to consider before moving to the UK. Whether applying to a university, or to start directly by working, money is one of the first things to think of. To learn how to manage your finances for the first month or so and other tips to settle quickly in your new home, look out for the next posts.


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