What to do when you move to the UK on a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa // Part I
Hello! I moved to the UK from the States via the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa (I’m also Canadian) a month ago, and I have noticed that there’s not a ton of information on the whole process, including what the deal with the NHS is, how to get a UK bank account, etc. etc.
Pick up your Biometric Residence Permit
You need this, pretty much ASAP when you arrive. If you arrived like me, within a few days of the end of my passport vignette, it’s good to make sure you’re legally allowed to be in the country. The process to pick it up is remarkably easy. They will have told you/you will have selected a post office to pick up your card; bring your passport with the 30 day vignette visa thing and the application decision letter with you.
Post offices in the UK also do lots of things, like currency exchange, the one I went to was sort of inside of a pharmacy as well? Anyhow, the line was quite long, but once I got to the counter, he took my documents and handed over a spankin’ new biometric residence permit (and also returned my passport).
This little puppy is important and useful — you show it at UK customs when you re-enter the country with your passport, as it is, in essence, your visa. It’s also a useful UK ID to have; you don’t need to carry the precious passport around with you, or worry that someone isn’t going to consider your Californian drivers license unacceptable. I use it often when paying with my credit card to prove who I am, picking up packages, etc. Super handy, highly recommend.
Get a UK Phone
I held off for an unnecessary amount of time, but it really does make your life easier, even in the modern times of unlimited international data. You’re about to do a lot of governmental paperwork, all of which require a phone number.
The truly annoying thing about getting a UK mobile is that for a contract phone, you need to have a UK debit account. What you can get is a pay-as-you-go SIM card or phone a la burner. I got mine at Three — they have a Pay-As-You-Go SIM card for £20 a month, 12 GB of data and plenty of texts and minutes.
Get an NI Number
This requires calling the NI Office (hence the UK phone):
National Insurance number application line
Telephone: 0345 600 0643
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
You need this number for when you get a job — also it takes awhile to do, so it’s better to get a head start on it. I do believe you can start a job without it, but you will need to get it eventually. It’s essentially a Social Security Number.
So! You call them, and they walk you through it. It’s fairly straightforward. They then mail you an application, which you fill out, include some photocopies of your passport profile page, previous UK passport stamps, and both sides of your biometric residence permit. The application comes with a pre-paid envelope (although it does not say pre-paid ANYWHERE on the envelope), so just stick the applications and the photocopies in there and pop it off. You’ll receive a letter later on with your NI number. Easy!
Get a UK Bank Account
All my British friends do in the US is complain about the American banking system, so I had a very high bar for what a British bank system would be like. It was proven to me the first time I saw contactless.
They have credit cards that just tap the credit card reader, and the transaction is done. It makes paying for your tab at a bar that much quicker. There’s no signing. There’s no print-outs. It’s fucking incredible. It only goes up to £30 (I think) but it’s enough for most daily transactions.
There’s a lot of banks here, obviously. I ended up going with Natwest, who happen to have a super easy online application process. I filled it out, then received a letter from them a few days later asking me to go into a branch and show them some documents (proof of identity + proof of address). Proof of identity was easy (passport + biometric residency permit), but the proof of address was kind of a pain. They asked for a bank statement (odd considering I was at a bank to OPEN A BANK ACCOUNT), or a utility bill (which you need a UK bank account to open) which appears to be a bit of a catch 22. A tenancy agreement DOES NOT COUNT. I had a heated argument with a bank employee about this (she argued that I could have signed a tenancy agreement and then decided not to live there, which is total madness). Ironically, the original letter from Natwest sent to me after my application doesn’t count as proof of address either, even though it’s from a bank, and obviously I have access to that address to retrieve the letter. However, that letter that the HM Revenue & Customs send me with my NI number counts as proof of address. If you, like me, got that sent to you and then moved, hence proving the wrong address — all you need to do is call HM Revenue & Customs (0300 200 3300) and then tell them you’ve changed your address and ask them to send you a letter with your NI number to your new address. That takes about a week, so be prepared to wait for it.
Anyhow, in I went to a Natwest office, showed me docs, and had a bank account open in no time. My debit card was shipped to me within a few days and my pin number the next day. You don’t need to activate the card the way you need to in the US, it’s ready to go as soon as your PIN arrives. Also don’t expect a checkbook — that’s not how things are done around here.
Ah, health insurance.
So, despite receiving a IHS number when you applied for your visa, you do NOT have a NHS number. You will only receive one once you register with a GP. It’s fairly easy to find a GP, the NHS site has this handy site to locate one — there’s a lot of information on each GP, including reviews and also their “catchment area” — meaning the geographical area wherein they’re allowed to service residents. So even if a GP looks awesome in another area of London, or is near your office, you need to check using your postcode to see if you qualify for service there.
Sometimes the catchment area is not apparent on the NHS site, so you’ll have to go into their own website (visible once you click on the practice’s name) to check. If in doubt, give em a call.
I went into my new GP, with my passport/permit and my NI letter. They gave me a standard new patient form and they registered me. I clarified that as I had just moved here and this was the first GP I was registering with, I did not have an NHS number. They accepted that nonchalantly and told me I’d receive an NHS number and I was registered as of the next day. Easy-ish!
Be aware that it is difficult to get an appointment for anything sooner than a few weeks out, unless it’s an emergency.