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Move to UK: Settling In Archive

Sunday

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December 2019

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COMMENTS

Leaving the Country for a Bit

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

There is a lot to see in the UK – you can go south to the cliffs of Dover, west to Wales, north to the Lake District, and even further north to Scotland. You can hop a ferry or plane over to Northern Ireland and explore Giants Causeway. It’s gorgeous here.

However, at some point you’ll decide you want to take a trip out of the country. When you do that, remember to take not just your passport but also your biometric residency permit — you’ll need both to get back in.

The other consideration you should take is securing health insurance. The NHS covers you in the UK, and you can also apply for a European Health Insurance Card, which allows you to access the public health care in European Economic Area nations.* I’d recommend applying for the card once you have your NHS number, and keep it with your passport and residency permit.

As it says right on that page, however, this is not the same as travel insurance; it won’t cover evacuating you back to the UK, for example. For that — and for travel anywhere outside the EEA — you’ll need to get travel insurance.

If you’ve been living the UK for at least six months this isn’t an issue. But if you plan to travel to the US within the first six months of living in the UK, your options will be limited. I found myself traveling back to Seattle just about three months after we moved to the UK, and had to do a bit of scrambling to find one that would work.

Bupa is the big private insurance provider here, but they’ll only allow you to purchase travel insurance if you’ve been living in the UK for six months. The Post Office is another option, but has a similar rule — in their case, you can’t have spent more than six months abroad in the year leading up to the purchase of the insurance. They also require that you be registered with a GP here.

Because neither of those options were available to me, I ended up doing a lot of Googling until I found options. Now, I cannot stress enough that I have no idea as to the QUALITY of these providers; I am not endorsing them at all, but instead wanted to share what I found in my research. If you need to travel for more than two weeks, one option is Diplomat American. Because my trip is shorter, this didn’t work for me, so I picked an option I found on Visitors Coverage.

If you think you’ll be doing a lot of traveling, you can purchase annual insurance that will probably work out to be cheaper than purchasing individual policies every time. Additionally, if you have private insurance through your or your partner’s employer, see if it includes travel insurance. If it does, then you’re all set.

Note: When the UK leaves the EU in 2020, the European Health Insurance scheme may no longer be an option, so you’ll need to get travel health insurance whenever you leave the UK.

Sunday

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December 2019

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COMMENTS

UK Taxes: Yup, You’re Paying These

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

he UK tax year runs from April 6 – April 5. That sounded kind of odd to me, so I did a little research, and apparently it’s because of this:

On the old British Calendar the tax year began on March 25 (the old New Year’s Day). In order to ensure against losing revenue it was decided by the British Treasury that the tax year, which started on March 25 1752, would be of the usual length (365 days) and therefore it would end on April 4, the following tax year beginning on April 5.

Huh. Okay. If you’re just working a regular job that takes your taxes out, you don’t have to do anything special. Just make sure taxes have been taken out of your paychecks!

Sunday

22

December 2019

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COMMENTS

US Taxes: Yes, You Still Have to Pay Them

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

Before we moved, we met with our tax guy, who told us about the tax rules related to earning money overseas. He prepares US taxes for another client who lives and works abroad, so he’s well-versed in what that entails.

As I understand it, the US is one of like two nations that taxes the income you earn outside of the US. I know. I went to graduate school with a guy who had lived in the UK for a couple of decades and was trying to drop his US citizenship because he was never moving back, but it was really hard because the US likes collecting those taxes. (I’m sure there are other reasons they make it hard, but that’s got to be one of them).

Regardless, no matter how annoying it is, YOU MUST PAY YOUR US TAXES EVERY YEAR.

Good news though: the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion means that as long as you’re out of the country for at least 330 days a year, you’re only taxed on foreign income earned above a certain amount, and that amount is per adult. It’s something like $103,000, so if you’re making less than that each year, you’re fine. Anything above that will be taxed, and it’ll be your responsibility to keep track of that so you have the money available to pay come April next year.

We are lucky that we moved to the UK on January 10; as we didn’t spend more than and additional 25 days in the US the rest of that year, that income exclusion applied to us when we filed our taxes. If you move in the middle of the year, however, or end up spending more than 35 days in the US in any given year, that exclusion will not apply, and you’ll owe taxes on that income.

To recap:

  • If you’re going to be in the US for more than 35 days in a year, you should save some money each paycheck, as you’re going to owe taxes on that next year.
  • Make a note on your calendar in February to do your US taxes; the UK has a different tax year, so you won’t be seeing the same reminders that bombard us in the US every February and March.
  • If possible, find a CPA to talk to before moving to see if there are other things you should know specific to your own financial circumstances.

Sunday

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December 2019

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COMMENTS

Pet Care

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

If you’ve got furry friends, you’ll want to find a vet for them pretty quickly because, again, who knows what will come up. One of our buddies came down with a cold just a few days after we arrived, so I found a nice vet online that let us come on down the same day. That vet was near our temporary housing, but once we moved to our permanent flat, we needed something closer.

There’s nothing magical with veterinarians here; I found mine by Googling and by taking into account which ones were easily accessible by bus. Some were closer but I’d have to walk, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy carrying 25 pounds of cats for long distances.

If you had pet insurance in the US, consider keeping it, because as long as you have a US address you can keep it and submit claims. They’ll just convert to US dollars and reimburse that way.

Sunday

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December 2019

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COMMENTS

Getting a Job: Your National Insurance Number

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

When you picked up your biometric residency permits after arriving in the UK, you may have noticed that the employed partner has been assigned a National Insurance (NI) number but you haven’t. If you want to work in the UK, you’ll need one of these, but it’s pretty easy to get in my experience.

First, clarification: your NI number is not the same thing as your NHS number. I associate health care with insurance, so it took awhile for me to sort this out. Think of it as the UK’s version of a Social Security Number. I don’t think it maps exactly, but close enough. You need it so that the taxes that are withheld from your paycheck are associated with you, and while you’t don’t need it to get a job, you will need it soon after you start working.

The bad news? You can’t apply for this online. But it’s still an easy process.

First, you call the number listed on this site. They’ll ask for your address, and a couple of other questions. Within about a week or so you’ll receive a paper application to complete. It’s straightforward; you just need to include copies of your passport, visa, and biometric residency permit (there are instructions included). You mail that all in and either you’ll get called in for an interview, or you’ll just receive a letter with your NI number included.

I didn’t have to go through the interview process, so I’m not sure what that involves.

If getting a job in the UK is high on your list, consider calling for that application as soon as you have your address. You can get the process moving quickly and hopefully have your NI number within the month.

Sunday

22

December 2019

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COMMENTS

Dental Care

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

The NHS covers dental care for free, but only for young people, some students, people over 65, and those receiving benefits. As someone on a visa, you likely aren’t eligible for the free NHS services. But, you can choose the NHS flat fee for certain procedures, like fillings, crowns, and root canals.

UK dental service is a bit different than in the US. When you find a dentist and book an appointment, you’re booking an exam. The hygienist, which in my experience is always part of the deal with a US dental appointment, is a separate visit and cost. Without any NHS cover, a check-up can cost £30 (including a couple of x-rays), and a hygienist visit can cost over £70.

In my case, I also needed a root canal early in my time here. I could have paid £60 for NHS care, which would have been delayed and likely used adequate but old technology. I instead chose to pay a bunch more to go to a private dentist. Yes, just like in the US, people who have access to money are always going to be okay, but at least here, if you don’t have a few hundred pounds to spare, you can still get your dental health needs met.

Sunday

22

December 2019

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COMMENTS

Medical Care

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

One of the best things about the UK — in my opinion — is that as part of the taxes you’ll pay, you have access to free health care. It doesn’t cover everything, and it isn’t perfect, but my goodness is it better than what we have in the US.

Once you have a place to live, you should register with a GP (general practitioner). Most will limit who they allow to register based on how close by you live. This site will help.

They’ll want proof of address (everyone does — it’d be so much easier if they had an option for a non-driver’s license ID like they have in the US) and your passport, which they’ll just glance at. You’ll have to fill out an NHS form and then whatever forms the individual surgery (what we’d call a doctor’s office) requires. After that, you can make appointments.

If you don’t have a GP, or you haven’t even gotten a place to live yet, but you still need some medical care, you can go to a drop-in clinic. I developed a wicked cough just a couple weeks after moving here and got some great care at a drop-in center.

The key is to register basically as soon as you have an address, because you never know when you’ll get sick. You won’t want to go to a drop-in center and wait between 20 minutes and four hours when you feel horrible. And if you have a condition that requires prescription medication or durable medical equipment, you probably already know this, but it can be easy to get caught up with all the other bits of life and then you’ve been in the UK for a month and suddenly realize that the behind-the-counter allergy medicine you get in the US is prescription only in the UK. Not great.

Sunday

22

December 2019

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COMMENTS

Our Banking Challenges

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

Before we had a flat, we tried to open a bank account. Some websites suggested that they had special accounts for foreign nationals, or people who didn’t have proof of address yet. Those website are all incorrect.

Seriously.

All of them.

Lloyd’s, for example, still comes up in internet searches as having an account specifically made for folks who have just moved to the UK. According to their staff, however, they discontinued that service in February 2017.

We tried Lloyd’s first because of their website, then walked to Barclay’s. A kind person overheard our frustration and said that Metro Bank was known for being a bit more lenient. So we walked over and they said we needed that address, but that once we had it then we would be all set. Sweet.

Week 1: Three bank visits

Once we had our lease we went back to Metro, but they said we needed an additional proof of address. I called and they said we needed a letter from my husband’s employer. I asked what the letter needed to include, and unfortunately they gave me incorrect information.

This meant that when we went in the next time they wouldn’t open the account, and asked for another letter with additional information. They also said that for a joint account we both had to separately have two forms of proof of address, which was a challenge for me since I didn’t yet have an employer. Gas, electric, or water bills or council tax bills would have worked, but our flat is newly renovated and the system not updated, so we don’t have those bills yet.

Week 2: One bank visit, four total

We both had Monese accounts, so we printed out statements from them, and then brought in our tenancy agreement and the letter from my husband’s employer. We got to the end of the process when the bank said that our tenancy agreement and such didn’t match the official Royal Mail address list, and so we couldn’t open an account yet.

We live in our flat, so we were surprised to see that for the banking system, it didn’t exist.

Week 3: One bank visit, five total

Because we were living in a newly renovated flat, the Royal Mail address system hadn’t been fully updated. This was a problem. Our landlord kindly agreed to send a revised tenancy agreement that matched the Royal Mail system. Home free, right?

Nope. We brought all the same info back to Metro (including the updated employer letter and Monese statements to match), and were told that because our landlords were private, this was a problem. Note that this issue was not brought up in any of the other four visits.

I’m still pissed thinking about it.

So I told them that we wanted them to remove all information they had on us from their system and that we’d be finding another bank. They were surprised. Oh well.

Lesson: Don’t use Metro Bank, and do ask lots of questions.

The next morning we went to Lloyd’s again, and they said they wouldn’t accept the tenancy agreement either. We then went to HSBC, who said that they didn’t have an appointments, but since we were from the US, they should be able to use our US address, open that account, and then transfer over. SCORE!

We took a bus to a larger branch where we were told that no, since we now lived here, that wasn’t an option. BUT. They said that all we needed was the letter from my husband’s employer to open a joint account. It’d be proof for him, and even though I wouldn’t have independent proof, I could still be on a joint account with him.

Week 4: Four bank visits, nine total

Monday I called HSBC and was able to get us an appoint for Thursday. We went in and THEY OPENED OUR BANK ACCOUNT.

Total: Five weeks, 10 visits to banks.

Lesson: Lloyd’s has bad information on their website, Metro always asks for more information and will waste your time. Not sure about Barclay’s or Nationwide. But HSBC worked for us.

Sunday

22

December 2019

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COMMENTS

Getting a Credit Card

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

Another thing that is frustrating about the banking system here is that your US credit history means nothing in the UK. Even companies that appear to be the same (say, Capital One in the US and Capital One in the UK, or Experian credit agency) act as though you’re brand new and have never had a credit card.

And for all I know, you might be! This might be your first time applying for any sort of credit card, and so the process might not seem all that odd to you. But for someone like myself, who has been lucky enough to have over 20 years of good credit history in the US (I say lucky because yes, I manage my finances well but also, I’ve never had any unexpected medical expenses or other major financial hardships, and I’ve always been able to earn above a living wage), this is obnoxious.

My partner and I arrived hoping to start building our credit in the UK. We aren’t sure how long we’re going to live here, but who knows if we’ll ever find ourselves in a situation where it’s important that we have strong credit. I didn’t have a job for the first 11 months, so I looked into a bunch of starter credit cards, thinking well, I’m starting out in the UK, so these are perfect for me!

Wrong.

Most let me go through a check before actually applying so it wouldn’t hurt my (non-existent) credit, and I was not successful with any of them. The main issue seemed to be not my lack of UK-earned income, but my address history. Because we’ve only been in the UK a couple of months, these credit card companies would ask for my previous address, but would only allow for an address in the UK.

You see the dilemma here, yes? I don’t have credit because I’m new to the UK, I can’t build credit without a credit card, but I can’t get a credit card because I’m new to the UK.

With that in mind, my partner and I decided to try for a joint credit card from the bank where we have our current (checking) account. After 45 minutes in person (including about 15 minutes of the bank employee on the phone with the underwriters), we were successful in getting a joint credit card with a reasonable credit limit!

But.

Because the account is primarily my partner’s, I’m not allowed to view any statements or purchase history. I can MAKE purchases, but I can’t access anything via online banking. That’s kind of a problem, since I’m the one who manages our finances. We figured something out, but I find this to be a very frustrating situation. In the US the main joint credit card we use has my partner as the primary just because he signed up for it first, yet I can still sign in and view it any time I like.

Deep sigh.

Because I want to build my own credit, I asked about whether I could apply for a starter credit card in my own name. Nope. Because I didn’t have a job yet (and even if I did, it needed to pay at least £8,000 / year), I didn’t get access to credit on my own. Even if I had income from a US-based venture (say, consulting), because it’s dollars, it didn’t count.

The whole experience continues to be illogical and frustrating, but hey, at least we have a credit card now.

My advice to you is that the same day you open your joint account, ask if you can apply for a joint credit card as well. It’ll save you some time and get you on the way towards building some credit. And who knows, depending on your bank, see if they’ll issue you a very low limit personal credit card. They might have different rules than HSBC. In a couple of months, after you’ve shown that you’re making payments and that income is being deposited into the current account, make another appointment to see if you can get the limit increased.

And as soon as you get a job, apply for your own credit card!

Sunday

22

December 2019

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COMMENTS

How to Open a Bank Account

Written by , Posted in Move to UK: Settling In

If you’ve followed my advice on getting a flat from a proper estate agent or council housing, your tenancy agreement should be sufficient proof of address for the banking system in the UK. However, again, before signing, look up your address on the Royal Mail postcode finder and make sure it matches EXACTLY.

Because all banks are different, I think it’s a good idea to have additional proofs of address:

  • If you are able to, change your US bank account address to your UK address and ask them to mail you a physical copy.
  • Whomever is working should get a letter from their employer that is from the HR head and includes the worker’s name, start date, job title, salary and, of course, address that matches the tenancy agreement and Royal Mail postcode finder address.

As soon as you have a tenancy agreement, call your chosen bank for an appointment. Hopefully whomever is working is going to be able to pop out for appointments in the beginning to set up your new life, so don’t worry about trying to find a weekend appointment if at all possible. Confirm exactly what you will want (joint current account — their word for checking account — credit cards, etc.) and exactly what they will require from you.

A couple of days after you get your account, your debit cards will arrive, then your pins. And then life will be a little bit easier.