Work Permits | At the Airport | Accommodation | Vehicles and Insurance | MOT | Tax Disk

Drivers License | National Insurance | NHS | Banking | Telephone and Internet

Immigrating to the UK.


Late September, early October 2001 we made our final decision to leave sunny SA for a new life in the UK. Janet had already secured a Teaching position in a Catholic School in Abbots Langley. I was yet to find work. Fortunately for us Janet’s Head Teacher had agreed to take Sarah as a student in the school. This solved a big problem. 

It took us 3 months to tie up our lives in SA. This included resigning from jobs, selling our cars and house, arranging an International moving company, cashing pensions and getting tax clearances not to mention the trauma of saying goodbye to family and friends.

 Neither of us are EU citizens nor do we qualify for any kind of ancestral visa. We had to go the Work Permit Route. 

Work Permits

There are labour shortages in several sectors and applying for work permits in these areas should not be a problem. The UK is short of Teachers, Doctors and Engineers. Unfortunately there is no longer shortage of IT workers in the UK.

The Employer must apply for the permit and the permit stays with the job and not the person. If you change employers you will need to re-apply.

It is free to apply for the permit although there are several agencies that will take the admin off your hands for a fee ( ±£700 ).

Once you have the Work Permit your direct family (Spouse and Children) can apply for Entry Clearance into the U.K. and leave to remain for the duration of the work permit.

You can find out all about Work Permits on the official government site

Immigration at the Airport

Have all your paperwork handy when you approach the Immigration Officer. Stamped passports and the original Work Permit. You will need to know the address of where you will be staying initially and the names of the people you will be staying with. (Make sure they are legally resident in the UK). You will need to have your story straight and appoint one spokesman. The Immigration Officer will be looking for reasons to not let you into the country.

Coming from Africa you may be asked to go for a Chest X-ray. They are looking for signs of TB. Some people advise bringing X-rays with to save time. Whether or not your X-rays will be acceptable is debatable but it may be worth a try.


We were lucky and managed to rent a property from SA over the internet. We were asked for a 1½ months rent as a deposit. I have heard of some people being asked for a 6 months deposit – this can become expensive.

Factor in Council Tax (Rates) if you are in London this could be anything between £80 - £110 pounds a month.

Do some homework and look at the area you are going to move to as there are some places were you would not want to end up in.

Vehicles and insurance

Second hand cars are relatively cheap here and you can get a good runner for about £500 - £750. If you do not have contacts go through Autotrader. Insurance is different to SA and you will not be able to license the car without at least 3rd party. It is also expensive. If you can bring along a letter confirming any no-claims bonus that you may have earned in SA – some insurance companies will accept this.

You will also have to name the drivers on your insurance – the more drivers the more expensive. The sooner you get your full UK drivers license the better as this will also affect your insurance. It’s best to phone around for quotes. You will be surprised the difference in cost between the insurance companies.


Every car in the UK over 3 years old has to have an annual MOT (COR) .This involves taking the car to an approved service center where they will award your car with the certificate. The good news is that the certificate is transferable so when you buy the car ask to see the MOT and you will know how long you have before you have to re-qualify. 

Tax Disk

You will also have to buy a Tax disc (Vehicle License). The can be done twice yearly or annually. A normal 1600 vehicle is around £160 per year. You can buy your tax disk at most Post Offices and remember you will be asked to produce your MOT and proof of insurance.

Both the MOT and Tax disk are transferable so it is to your advantage to find out how long both of these have to run on the vehicle.

Drivers License.

A South African drivers license can be converted to a full UK license without taking any further tests. You will need to send off your SA license and your passport to the DVLA. They will keep your SA license and issue your new UK license quite quickly. Ours took a week. They will also return your passports.  There is an administration charge for this. You will soon realize that the postal service here is far more efficient a reliable than back home, but I still send passports registered mail.

National Insurance and  Income tax

In addition to your PAYE you will also pay National Insurance. This is to pay for your free health care on the NHS. You will be allocated a temporary NI number when you start work. This means that you will also be put onto the emergency tax scale and be paying more than you need to. You should apply for your official National Insurance number as soon as possible. You will need to make an appointment and attend an interview. The whole process can take up to 6 months. Once you have been allocated the Number you can write to the Inland Revenue a claim the excess tax back.


Living in the UK, you get free medical treatment. You must however be registered with a GP. When you get here this should be one of the first things you do. You don’t want to get sick and not have a Doctor to go to. You can sign up with private medical schemes like BUPA. They have their own Doctors and even their own Hospitals, but the service is better. We have had no complaints with the NHS.

If you are prescribed medicine you will have to pay $6 at the pharmacy. This charge is per prescription regardless of how much medicine is prescribed.

Dentists are not free and you will pay per visit. It is subsidized by the NHS.  


We approached several banks here in the UK to open an account. Without a history some of them were not interested. Eventually we walked into HSBC and they were very helpful. We managed to open a Current account and a savings account and a Junior account for Sarah. Don't expect to get a credit card straight away. You will have to build a relationship with the bank first. After about 8 months we approached the bank again for a credit card and they were only to willing to give us one with a huge credit facility. They even wanted to give us a personal loan.

Just be patient with the Bank. All good things come to those who wait.

You will be pleasantly surprised that most of the banking services we were so used to paying for in SA are free here. Drawing money from an AutoTeller is free providing it is one affiliated with your bank. If they do charge you you get a warning first. Checks are free. Everybody uses checks here. "put the check in the post"

Telephone and Internet

There are several telephone service providers here and you can shop around. We went with BT because they are so well known. We then signed up with a company called Onetel who provide cheap international phone calls. They send you a device that you plug in between your jack and the phone. You can then dial internationally at vastly reduced rates. BT only charge you the rental fee.

As with telephone service providers there are many Internet Service Providers. We went with Onetel again. You can sign up for modem or Broadband. A modem connection can be billed to you per minute or a flat rate per month depending on how much time you spend on the net. With either option (again unlike SA) you pay only the ISP and not for the calls. A Dial-up connection will cost you about £15 pm.

If you decide to go Broadband. You must be prepared to pay around £100 for a setup fee. This usually includes the ADSL modem also depending on the deal that you get. The monthly charge is £28 and you are then online 24 hours a day at lightening speeds. You won't regret this option. Again BT does not charge you.