The complete guide to moving to the UK

Absolutely Everything You Need to Know

Updated: Jul 11, 2016

So you’ve decided to make the big move to the UK. You like the sound of Saturday morning strolls through Borough Markets, drinking a pint in a pub older than time itself and short train rides to Paris for a spot of wine and cheese. And then reality bites. Relocating to the other side of the world takes a little more planning than packing an Arsenal scarf into an overnight bag, quitting your job and redirecting your mail for a while. But if 113,592 other Australian residents now residing in London1 I can do it, then you’re smart enough to manage the move. It just takes a bit of thought and planning.

Enjoy our comprehensive guide to the finer points of moving to the UK. Once you’re done here, you’ll be telling others how it’s done.

Getting through customs

Organise a visa

Your first step is making sure you are legally okay to work and live in the UK. Despite Australia being part of the British Commonwealth, you can’t just have the removalists send your gear over and expect to start work straight away. You need a visa if you plan to live in the UK for longer than 6 months. In summary, there are 3 main types of working visas for Britain. 

  • Tier 2 visas are available for high-demand fields.
    • You can apply for one of these if you have already been offered a skilled job in the UK and you’re from outside Europe. Effectively you are being sponsored to work in the UK by your employer and you can maintain this visa as long as you remain employed in that role. If you leave that role, your new employer will need to pick up that visa sponsorship or you will move to another visa class, or out of the UK altogether!
  • Tier 5 visas are temporary work permits good for 6 months to 2 years.
    • These are also sponsored by an employer but specific to non standard roles such as charity or religious workers, sports people, those who work in creative endeavours, and approved government exchanges or fellowship programs.
  • Tier 1 visas are only available to people starting a business, and are good for five years.
    • These might be entrepreneurs with significant investment to make in the UK or an exceptional talent who has been endorsed as an emerging leader in their field.

In short, the bulk of people fall into the Tier 2 visa category but you should visit this resource for more detail on different visa options pertaining to your situation.

TIP: Ensure you have the right visa organised for your work situation.

Have a valid passport

You need a valid passport for the full duration of the visa you are applying for. Visit the Australian Government passport authority for all the facts and details on obtaining or renewing your Australian passport.

TIP: Have a valid passport for the duration of your planned working visa.


No kids to worry about but a little cavoodle you can’t bear to leave behind? You need to think about how you are going to drag your furry friends along for the ride. How are they going to actually travel over all of that land and water? And when they arrive in the UK will they get through quarantine?

The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) allows pet animals from Australia and many other countries to enter the UK without quarantine as long as they meet certain rules and we suggest reading on for many of the details. The good news is that King & Wilson have this covered too. Visit this resource to consider international transport options for your pet, advice on vaccination and quarantine and other services to ensure your pet’s wellbeing.

TIP: Contact King & Wilson to take care of your pet quarantine and transport concerns.

Sort out the money


It has become difficult nowadays to open a UK bank account without a local address so you may need to be resourceful. Lean on any friend or family member already residing in the UK or use your future work address if that is possible. You may need to open a bank account in the UK ahead of time to pay for anything in advance.

The better known, larger UK banks are Lloyds, HSBC, NatWest and Barclays. It’s usually free to open most British bank accounts.

It may be worth asking your current bank whether they have any reciprocal relationships with the UK which could make life quicker and easier for transfer funds and set up of an account. Your current bank may also be able to give you a reference to offer your UK bank as proof that you have been a solid citizen. Consider whether you need to keep a bank account to pay any commitments back home such as a mortgage or personal loan.

The UK is not too different from Australia for day to day transactions. Typically, Visa and American Express cards are widely accepted. ATMs are never far away and linked to the Cirrus, Maestro and Plus cash networks.

TIP: You will need a local address to open a bank account in the UK.


Let’s start with the easy part. The UK has their own currency despite being part of the European Union. Rather than dollars and cents, the Brits trade in pounds and pence (was awfully kind of them to make it rhyme a bit). Pound notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. Whilst coins are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, and 50p along with £1 and £2 coins. The only catch is in the value of the currency -- Aussie and US dollars are generally worth a fair bit less than British pounds but check up to date currency converters to be sure. You want to ensure you don’t make the mistake of thinking that a pound and a dollar are of the same value because life could quickly get expensive if you do. More importantly, you are going to need to work out how you are going to save a few of the little buggers.

TIP: Check latest currency conversion to understand what things really cost.

Health Insurance

If you were an American moving to the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) may make you giddy with surprise. For Australians, this is a pretty similar system to Medicare. Regardless of nationality, anyone will receive free emergency treatment at Accident & Emergency departments of NHS hospitals so you need not worry too much about health insurance. Once you arrive in the UK you’ll need to apply for a National Insurance number. This is quite straightforward but an essential process and you should visit this site for more information.

Despite a strong public health insurance infrastructure, it is still worth taking out a travel insurance policy. In many cases, purchasing a travel insurance policy from Australia may be cheaper than private health insurance in the UK. This may also give you greater flexibility over where and how you're treated, and covers expenses for emergency repatriation.

TIP: Apply for a National Insurance Number as soon as you arrive in the UK.


As with the health insurance system, UK taxes are not dissimilar to Australia. The most common taxes are on your income and your purchases. Income Tax is a flat tax taken out of your salary. Sales Tax (VAT) is a 17.5% tax automatically calculated into the cost of most goods (except for children’s clothing). If you own property, you pay Council Tax in the UK, payable in monthly instalments and calculated by property value and number of occupants. There are also separate taxes on inheritance, capital gains, and other similar taxes and we suggest taking a deeper dive into this resource.

Setting up a home

London or bust?

It is an oft made mistake that a move to the UK means London. In reality, there are a range of fascinating cities with rich histories, diverse culture and exciting nightlife. The capital will always have its appeal but a less obvious destination such as Birmingham, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Cardiff or Leeds could be your key to finding opportunity and success. There is likely to be less competition for jobs and an opportunity to be more of a novelty elsewhere than amongst hundreds of thousands of foreigners that call London home. 

TIP: Consider cities outside London if you don’t have work lined up in the capital already.

Rent or Buy

If you currently own property you need to decide whether it’s the right time to sell. Or perhaps you can earn a decent passive income to assist your lifestyle in the UK by renting it out while you are away. That is a big decision you need to make in consultation with financial and real estate advisors. Whether you plan to rent or buy in the UK, you need to prepare for a lengthy process of finding the right home. Think of it as the next big commitment after that job hunt. Start your research by looking at services like Zoopla or Home.  

If you opt to live in a big UK city, don’t expect a huge home with a big backyard and a tree swing. The city of London is densely populated so you're more likely to be living in a flat or a small house. If you're flying solo or in a couple, you may end up in a studio apartment. It’s also more common than you may realise to share your home with another couple. Services like Gumtree will help match you with those sorts of options.  Ultimately, living space will become a factor when you start to think about shifting some of those larger items of furniture across, but we’ll get to that when we start talking about packing and shipping over to the UK.

TIP: Whether you rent or buy, your home may be smaller so start culling now.


When you move into your new home you need to find out who the current electricity, gas and water providers are. You will need to then open accounts with those providers in your name. You might also want to shop around for the best deals via services such as Money Supermarket or USwitch. Take care to check the meters the day you move in and quote them in your dealings with utilities providers. If you are a tenant, the landlord is the one who handles paying your water bill.

Unlike in Australia, you need to pay for a TV license, something you won’t have considered in the past! A colour TV license costs around £135.50 per year. You also may then want to pay for more advanced viewing via cable or digital channels.

Check out this useful guide for more information on utilities or this handy guide from Zoopla to the running costs of a home in the UK.

TIP: Record your gas, electricity and water meter reading on the day you move in.


Phone and Internet services will feel pretty familiar to most people. London still has a handful of its famous old red phone boxes, but many have made way for more modern looking glass cubicles. Public phones accept coins, and often credit cards. You’ll probably want to organise a mobile phone soon after arriving however. No need to look like Doctor Who jumping in and out of phone booths all day. Sorting out a mobile is a pretty simple process. The four main carriers are EE (formerly Orange), Vodafone, O2 and Virgin. All have pre and post-paid subscription options and you can turn up to their numerous city outlets with ID to arrange. 

Once you settle in your home, you’ll also want Internet. Compare alternative packages and pricing using a service like Broadband Genie. Your mobile phone provider will happily sell you a mobile internet “dongle” that you can plug straight into your computer or laptop and be up and running quickly. You may want to look at longer term broadband or cable options fixed to the home and this is a useful guide to consider.

TIP: Use a temporary mobile internet dongle when you first arrive.

How will you get around?

Getting a UK Driver's Licence

Ok, first things first. They drive on the left hand side in the UK. The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. To be clear, that is the same as Australia, so there shouldn’t be too much trepidation getting behind the wheel.

If you have a driver’s licence already, its valid for you to drive in the UK for up to 12 months. Before the 12 months are up you must exchange your licence for a British one. That should be enough to get you started. Visit this resource for more detail on what to do next.

TIP: Your current driver’s license is ok to use for your first 12 months in the UK.

Public Transport

If you choose to live in London, you actually may find life a lot easier and less expensive without a car. Public transport is reliable, while parking can be a nightmare and petrol prices are becoming prohibitive the world over. The legendary London Underground (nicknamed The Tube) is extraordinarily vast, is fairly affordable to use, and trains arrive with good frequency. Simply buy an Oyster Card from a tube station. These offer discounted prices on tube, bus, and city rail fares. For more on the London Underground’s history and the various train lines visit this site. London’s iconic double decker busses are also a very practical way to travel shorter distances around town. See here for further on your bus options.

Tip: Buy an Oyster Card from a tube station for discounted train and bus rides

What will the kids do all day?

Day Care or Nanny

If you are bold or silly enough to put your infant child on a 20+ hour flight around the world, you may be in the market for some sort of child minding service. It ain’t cheap living in the UK and assuming you have a primary income covered, a secondary income will come in handy too. Your options range from day care centres to a nanny. Full time daycare will set you back between £210-280 a week for toddlers. This gets a little less expensive as your babies become pre-schoolers. Either way, you will want to make plans for childcare in advance because places fill up fast at the major centres. See this useful guide on nursery options in the city of London and this broader look at the cost of childcare in the UK.

TIP: Organise child care options in advance of your arrival.

School Options

You have two main options for your child’s primary or high school education – public and private (or state and independent as they are called in the UK). State schools are government funded, while private or independent schools will cost you in fees.

The other key difference between private and public system is that government funded primary schools cover children aged 5-11, while independent primary schools extend to the age of 13. The confusion extends to high school where Independents cater to children up to the age of 18 whereas government high schools run to 16. The reason for this difference is that children sit the nationwide GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams at the age of 16. Those that pass this test tend to go on different paths to gain further A-Level qualifications. These happen at the private school they have attended to that point or at a special government institution called a sixth form centre.

If all of that sounds both intriguing and confusing in equal measure, we suggest deeper reading on the British education system here.

College and University

If you have kids over the age of 16 and are looking into university options, we suggest the blighters might be old enough to do their own research! There’s plenty of options to choose from. Send them this useful overview from the Top Universities site and this league table comparing the lot.

Work stuff

Qualification recognition

Your ease in finding work will be variable and may come down to a few strokes of luck (if you do not already have a job lined up). It will depend on your qualifications and the competition in your field. There may also be the need to get licensed or accredited to ply your trade in the UK. Visit this resource for more on having your trade or qualification recognised in the UK.

A Tier 2, skilled worker visa is typically granted for 3 years plus 1 month and requires sponsorship from your employer. If you are yet to land a job, a different working holiday visa may need to be applied. Read on here for more options regarding work visas.

TIP: Look into whether you need formal certification to practice your field in the UK.

Lock down the job

Do you have a job lined up already? If so, double and triple check that there’s no fine print and that you can plan for the move with that job locked down and comfortably in your back pocket. Confirm the location of the role so you can determine where you would like to live and whether you’ll be needing a car. This really is the first step for locking away many of the other practicalities of life….not to mention your finances.

TIP: Confirm that your job is 100% locked in. All else follows.

Finding a job

A good way to start your search from thousands of kilometres away is via one of many online job boards. Set up search parameters on Monster, Indeed, Reed and Fish4Jobs to have the right jobs hitting your inbox. Any job hunt takes time, so you want to start that process right away. 

In preparation for starting your job search, it’s worth giving your old CV a proper polish. You’ll be ready to correspond as soon as you land the first interview. And don't be shy to sell yourself on that CV. You usually get one shot at impressing a prospective hirer and you don't want them passing you over due to an abundance of humility. Bear in mind also that a well-known brand you worked for may be unknown in the UK. You may need to emphasise what you achieved in that role rather than who you worked for. Click here for more resume tips.

TIP: Freshen up your CV, sell your achievements and set up job board alerts

Pack and close up shop

Book your flight

The earlier you can book your international flight the better price-wise. If you can travel outside the school holiday peak season, you’ll save money too. This usually means travelling around February to March, May to June, late July to mid-September, or mid-October to mid-December. The sooner that you can lock down your moving date the better so you can plan ahead and save. Check out this Australian Government education resource for school holiday dates.

Check out Skyscanner or Webjet, a couple of the handy air travel aggregators to help get you the best ticket prices possible. Especially if you are not fussy about which airline you fly with.

Cull the clutter

Packing up your life and starting a new one is a good chance to cleanse. Don’t stick everything you own into boxes and transport the lot to your new home. Take the time to cull! There’s a few good reasons for this.

There’s a fair chance that your new digs in London are going to be a smaller abode than the wide brown land you’ve been living in down under. Where are you going to fit all that stuff currently sitting in that spare room that no one ever goes into?

You may have been hanging on to old heirlooms from a previous life that don’t need to make the journey around the world and back. If the planned move is unlikely to be forever, then look into storing a few old boxes with a friend or relative or employing King & Wilson’s long term storage services. You can revisit your old university text books again one day when you resettle back home. Or if the move to the UK might be indefinite, ask yourself whether you need eight boxes of old cassette tapes from the early '90s before you realised that CDs weren’t a passing fad…and while you’re there, how about that CD collection?

For more on minimalist packing check out this interesting perspective from

Tip: Cull unnecessary belongings and possessions before packing boxes

10 Weeks Before Moving Day

Give yourself plenty of time to plan the logistics of packing. A good international removalist, like King & Wilson will be your best friend in this regard -- they won’t want you leaving this to the last minute either. A few things to think about 2-3 months out from the big day:

  • Put together a folder or box for all documents and receipts relevant to the move.
  • Start a conversation with an international shipping company such as King & Wilson to get an estimate.
  • Create a floor plan for your new home to get a sense of how many of your large sized furniture or appliances you may need to get rid of.
  • Given it will be arriving by sea, it can take 10-12 weeks for your boxed up life to arrive in the UK, so you need to think about a separate, smaller load that will carry you through these first couple of months. Clothing, sheets, towels and key crockery and kitchen utensils for example. Some of this will be baggage that makes it with you on the plane. You may consider pre-arranging this excess baggage as it is much cheaper to book in advance than turning up on departure day with more than your baggage allowance. King & Wilson offer a smaller air shipment service to cover off this need as well.
  • Are you planning on shipping over a car or motorbike? Or do you have artwork that might need particular attention? Shifting these items require special consideration and all can be taken care of with the right shipping partners.
Tip: Start a conversation with international movers now rather than later

6 Weeks Before Moving Day

Now you are edging closer to the big move, you want to start ticking off what will and won’t make it on the journey. For example:

  • Take an inventory list of all items around your home that will need to come with you.
  • Start selling off large or redundant items via Gumtree or ebay that you don’t want to take with you.
  • Hold a garage sale or take advantage of any local market stalls or jumble sales
  • Start the process of selling your vehicle on Carsales or a similar online classifieds service

4 Weeks Before Moving Day

With less than a month to the move, you need to start getting your hands dirty and actually packing a few things away, particularly items you are not using day to day:

  • Collect moving boxes and packing supplies. Or if you move your home with King & Wilson, simply use the international shipping cartons provided.
  • Start by packing things you don't use much currently like extra dining or kitchen utensils and seasonal clothing. Visit this resource from Energy Australia on the right way to pack when moving house or this interesting blog post on the subject by Frugal Mama.
  • Donate the things you don't need (or that you haven’t been able to sell off).
  • Think about consuming your pantry stocks and frozen goods as well as home cleaning products, shampoos and soaps.
Tip: Start by packing the things you do not use day to day

1-2 Weeks Before Moving Day

Eek! You are merely days away from the move now and need to be thinking about leaving behind a clean, empty home for a new inhabitant. You also need to think about tying up loose ends at home, the flight and what you need for your first days in the UK:

  • Confirm all your travel arrangements.
  • Finish packing your essentials.
  • Clean and defrost your refrigerator 24 hours before you move, turn off all the pipes and make sure you didn't leave any appliances on.
  • Cancel the newspaper subscription, contact Australia Post to redirect your mail to your new address in the UK, disconnect your utilities like the electricity, gas and internet.
  • Say your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.
Tip: Don’t forget to redirect the mail to your UK address.

On Moving Day

You’ve made it to the big day. The job now is mainly to get out of the way of the professionals and focus on your breathing:

  • Let the professionals do their thing. A good removalist will take care of packing your belongings carefully and thoroughly.
  • A good international shipping mover will also cover off all the necessary shipping documentation to facilitate prompt customs clearance once it arrives in the UK.
  • Get to the airport, put on those noise cancelling headphones and relax for 24 hours or so in anticipation of your new adventure! Life in the UK is full of adventure and excitement and just a little bit of rain. We’re not even going to try to cover off what you can do for kicks once you arrive in town, and trust you’re going to have a lot more fun finding out for yourself. Good luck!


1. 2011 UK Census