I'm an American woman planning on moving to England for six months to be with my boyfriend. What's the best way to do this?
October 22, 2007 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm an American woman planning on moving to England for six months to be with my boyfriend. What's the best way for me to get work?

(This is anonymous because we're both active on MetaFilter but want to keep things quiet for now.)

I know that I'll probably need a job permit, which can be quite difficult to obtain. I also know that for childcare I don't need a job permit, but should be registered with the government. (What's the best way to get registered? Can I get resgistered before I go over?)

I've researched the Highly Skilled Migrant Program, but I'm not sure I'd be accepted, and it's $800 to apply.

I'd love to be sponsored by a company, but how can I do this? Would I approach a company I'd like to work for and ask them for sponsorship? How easy is this to do? Is registering with an agency effective?

Other info about me: I'm 33 (so I don't qualify for the Working Holidaymaker Visa). I am not a student, nor do I plan on being one. I have a rather diverse resume, with seven years' experience in my chosen field: interior architecture. I am not comfortable with being paid under the table. We're not ready/willing to get married just so I can work over there. I'd be willing to work outside my field. I have a good chunk of monthly bills that need to be paid, and while I don't need a ton of money, I need a regular income.

Any suggestions would be welcome, along with any advice you might have for living in England for the first time.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help too much about income (my job paid for my visa) but I moved to Southeast England from California about a year ago.

Where in England are you moving to? Surprisingly, this will make a huge difference in what to expect. "London" is a whole 'nother story compared to just "45 minutes from London". That said, here are some things I tell people when they ask about my transition here:

- Get over the currency conversion fast. What I mean is, it is *expensive* here compared to the states. Basically, everything will cost twice as much because although something that is $10 will be 10 pounds here, because of the sucky exchange rate you are actually paying $20. But get over it. I have a friend who is still hung up over that kind of thing and it's really annoying.

- Depending where you are coming from, the weather may be a huge change to adjust to as well. The nice days are glorious, but I have found that nice days are few and far between.

- Customer service is... mediocre at best. This is something I still struggle with as I have never experienced such bad customer service before. I don't know what it is, could be because of lack of business competition, my boyfriend says it's more prevalent in Southern England.

- I've found that's it's amazingly diverse here... although in a different way than California. That is, there isn't that many "ethnic minorities" but even within the British community the backgrounds vary quite a bit and there's a lot to learn!

- Get used to the friendly jabs at being an American, I've come to accept it as a sign of affection. That said, try and encorporate the British terms (ie trousers instead of pants, jumper instead of sweater, mince instead of ground beef). They'll still understand you if you revert to the American terms, and they'll know you're American by your accent but at least this way it looks like you're trying to fit in with the culture.

- Try and get into the spirit of things and be open to experience all aspects of the culture, it will make your stay so memorable! Get into football (the season is in full swing and pretty exciting, 'mon Arsenal!). Try and visit Scotland and Ireland, the midlands and Wales. Give tea an honest attempt and you'll find it's far superior to coffee (at least here). Try not to get addicted to Galaxy bars and Dairy Milks but damn they're so much better than Hershey bars.

If you want any more tips, feel free to mefi-mail me! :) Good luck!
posted by like_neon at 11:10 AM on October 22, 2007

There is a visa for non-married partners, but I don't know how hard it is to qualify for.

The one piece of advice I wish I'd been given before I moved to England was to learn to drive a manual transmission before I got here. I could have bought an old beater for $500 and learned on my own instead of paying £20/hour for many many hours of driving lessons just so I could get an unrestricted driver's license.

(That being said, you can drive on your US license for a year, but future googlers of this question who are staying longer might be interested.)

(like_neon: I like both Dairy Milk and Galaxy, but I stock up on Hershey's whenever I'm in the states. To me, Hershey's is what chocolate is *supposed* to taste like!)
posted by happyturtle at 11:28 AM on October 22, 2007

I tried this two or three times, between 1990-1997, with varying degrees of up-front-ness, and failed miserably all three times. First time I was a student, and was on a student visa studying abroad while on an internship. Even with the visa, the job opportunities after my internship ended were crap (maybe things have changed economically). I did work, but only odd jobs and nothing with any sense of (let alone commitment to) permanency.

Second time I went back with some of the contacts in hand from my previous trip (graphic design firms, photography studios, etc.). No one was willing to sponsor me because of the bureaucracy involved. Companies had to prove that they needed your specific skills and that those skills could not be provided by a UK citizen (that may be extended to mean any EU citizen now). Again, things may have changed. End result same as trip #1 - odd jobs, nothing satisfying, returned to US.

On my third trip I was trailing after an old boyfriend (who was my current boyfriend at the time). We'd been together about 5yrs, but weren't married, and while he had a visa to work, I did not. We were there for six months. I tried getting some odd jobs, but found it was easier to work freelance on US jobs - that is, as if I were actually in the States. That might be an option for you. Also, pay attention to what the rules are regarding your length of stay. After I left and returned a few times on trips within Europe, I got a big hassle from immigration at Heathrow (private room, lots of questions, the works). I cut back on my trips after that and used trains exclusively for travel to the continent, which improved things.

As for living in England, it's wonderful! If you're in London, get a sense of the high streets in different neighborhoods, go to lots of parks, go to the V&A (amazing even if you hate museums), get to the Tate, see Little Venice, eat indian food and walk, walk, walk. If you take a cab, respect your cab driver! Hop a train and go anywhere, get to all the different parts of England and the UK, because they're each amazing, and travel, travel, travel!

Oh, be prepared for people to have a much deeper intellectual life - "history" is a lot longer and more cosmopolitan once you cross the Atlantic. People who you might not think would know a whit about philosophy will be experts.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:31 AM on October 22, 2007

Lots of good advice given so far. I lived in London for two years as a student and I absolutely loved it.

I tried to find legit work there without the student visa, but it was pretty difficult. Companies would be interested until they found out I didn't have anything that could keep me in the UK legally beyond the student visa (like no ancestry or anything). Do you have Irish grandparents? Or Italian? You might be able to get an EU passport via those means, which would allow you to work in the UK without restriction. My most recent ancestor from Ireland is my great-grandfather, unfortunately, so that did not enable me to get an Irish passport (my mom could get one and if she had gotten one before I was born, I'd have been able to get one, too. Oh well! Some day I'll get that time machine to work...)

In my somewhat limited experience, the easiest way to get work in the UK was to either have some ancestry that allowed you an EU passport, or to have an American company employ you in their British office. (Or marry a Brit but that doesn't sound feasible for you at the moment).
posted by sutel at 1:01 PM on October 22, 2007

Have you looked over the UK Visas webpage at www.ukvisas.gov.uk?

I spotted the following at this link:

"Can I join my unmarried or same-sex partner in the UK?
You can apply to join your unmarried or same-sex partner in the UK, as long as:

* they currently live and are settled in the UK, or they are coming to live permanently in the UK, and
* you are aged over 18 and your sponsor is over 18."

You don't state what nationality your boyfriend is (is he British and has returned home, or is he American and is working legally in the UK?), nor how long you've been together. The latter point is very important because (from the same page):

"How do I qualify to join my unmarried or same-sex partner in the UK?
You and your unmarried or same-sex partner must show that:

* any previous marriage, civil partnership or similar relationship, has permanently broken down
* you have been living together in a relationship similar to marriage or civil partnership for two years or more
* you have suitable accommodation which is owned or lived in only by you and your household, and where you and your dependants can live without any help from public funds
* you can support yourselves and any dependants without any help from public funds
* you intend to live together permanently
* your partner is not under 18, and
* you are not under 18.

The Entry Clearance Officer will need to see evidence of a two-year relationship. This may include:

* documents showing joint commitments, such as bank accounts, investments, rent agreements or mortgages, and
* letters linking you to the same address, and official records (such as a gas or electricity bill or proof of your rent or mortgage arrangements) of your address

At first, you will be allowed to stay and work in the UK for two years. Near the end of this time, if you are still partners and intend to continue living together, you can apply to stay permanently in the UK.

If you and your unmarried or same-sex partner have been living together outside the UK for four years or more and you meet all the necessary requirements to stay permanently in the UK, you may be granted indefinite leave to enter. These requirements include showing that you have the necessary level of knowledge of the English language and life in the UK (see the relevant section of this guidance for more information). "

Other points I've highlighted: You mention childcare, which you may not qualify for (public funds), but you would be able to work.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 1:02 PM on October 22, 2007

I just realised that I probably misunderstood your expression "I also know that for childcare I don't need a job permit". My reading was that you were intending to apply for a childcare benefit of some description for an (unmentioned) child, hence my comment about public funds.

I now see that it's more likely that you meant "I can work as a child-carer without a job permit", and because it's an anonymous question you won't be able to correct such a misunderstanding. Sorry about that.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 1:16 PM on October 22, 2007

I wish I could help in a more concrete way, but my advice would be to start researching American ex-pat groups in England/London (here's one, for example), and join even before you leave. Include your photo, work that personality, and try to start making contacts right away. Ideally, you want a lively group that has meetups and a message board, so you can begin your inquiries in advance online. At least some other Americans in England will be clued in on aspects surrounding your situation, and, with luck, inclined to offer advice or even opportunities.

Once you are there, be sure to attend some meetings and get started anchoring your connections with face time, since people will be a lot more willing to help someone they've met in RL.

Good luck with everything!
posted by taz at 1:48 AM on October 23, 2007

Oh, and perhaps I should expand on something: when I say include your photo and work that personality, I mean include your photo if there's a field for that otherwise, no. :), and work your personality, because I belong to an expat group in Athens, and many of the join-announcements are just "Hi, I'm X, and I just moved here/will be moving there, and hope to meet some of you," while others are a lot more interesting, and make me think, "hmm, I'd like to meet/help that person."
posted by taz at 1:57 AM on October 23, 2007

If you're only planning to stay for six months, you can come in on a tourist visa. However, converting a tourist visa to a working visa is not looked on very kindly by the Home Office, and as of two years ago, Americans were the only nationality left who would even be allowed to do so. So tread carefully.

Your best option is to start looking for work on the UK websites. Target large institutions that would have dealt with hiring non-EU workers before, such as universities and multinationals. If your boyfriend is already back, use his address and landline number as contacts and have him relay messages to you. Try to make clear what your availablility for interviews would be. Using Skype and webcams for interviews is done, though outside of academia I don't know how common it is.

You can try going the EU passport route through rights of ancestry, but it can take well over a year and more than a few hundred dollars before that comes through (in which case HSMP may be cheaper and faster. YMMV).

If you're 33, and have a boyfriend, I can't imagine many families would want to take you on for childcare, at least not the families I know. They're usually looking for late-teenage au pairs who can live in the family home. In other childcare situations such as daycare, they would need to be able to perform background checks, and your being from North America may be a problem.

Good luck, and enjoy your stay in the UK!
posted by methylsalicylate at 4:14 AM on October 23, 2007

In case anyone googles this question and/or you consider it marriage is not a simple solution.

Fiance visa is good for 6 months and costs $1050. You are not allowed to work and have no recourse to public funds.

If you get married toward the beginning of that time (if it is a civil ceremony you will have to register at a registrar that deals with int'l relationships, and pay for license and registrar to perform the service. It costs more money for the person doing the ceremony to come to another venue and they have a list of acceptable venues.)

You the have to apply for a marriage visa which is good for 2 years...it costs in the area of $800.

You can work on that visa and after the two years can apply for a permanent status/citizenship for about $1400.

Good luck and send me an email if you want to visit an expat in the northeast.
posted by terrortubby at 4:42 AM on October 23, 2007

You are not currently prepared to go 'under the table', you're not married, you probably don't qualify for the joining-your-unmarried-partner visa, you're not coming to be in full-time education, and you're not an employee of a US company being transferred into its UK office.

Sorry to pour cold water on your plans, but as it stands you're fucked.

This isn't a friendly country you're talking about - this is a place where grey-uniformed, low-brow-ridged, knuckledragging government Vogons stamp their way through the Eurostar looking at you funny if you show them an Irish passport.

You do have a couple of options:

a) If you're self-employed and work from home right now, you can probably carry on doing so from anywhere. Providing all the clients, invoices and banks remain in the US, nobody's ever going to find you in Britain

b) If you're entitled to a passport from an EU country other than the UK, get one. All EU passport holders can live and work in the UK without permission. A truly staggering number of Americans are eligible to claim an Irish one, for example. If you're one of them you're golden

Alternatively, and for the record I am not necessarily suggesting this as a course of action to anybody, K? Kthx

It's only six months. If you're a white American woman and you're not carrying more than your duty free allowance, nobody at Heathrow gives a toss about you, and nobody will notice you while you're here if you don't actively engage with public bodies. It is *possible* to tell them you're on holiday (ferchrissakes don't mention a boyfriend), walk right in, then work self-employed and not bother with the tax. Should you have to go home and come back, that might engender suspicion so for safety you fly to Dublin, get a train over the unpoliced border to Belfast, and fly back to London on a passport-check-free internal flight.

Your chances of being detected are virtually nil, and the second worst thing that can happen is they deport you at your own expense. (The worst thing that can happen is you need a hospital and you forgot to buy your worldwide travel insurance certificate before you came over.)

Specifically, while your passport will be stamped with a three-month expiry date, they don't demand proof that you're going home in a fortnight when you tell them you are, they don't know where you are to come looking when the three months are up, and nobody checks your passport when you're trying to leave the UK.

The only real trick is finding under-the-counter work. You won't be able to get a National Insurance number.
posted by genghis at 6:34 AM on October 23, 2007

I'm going to throw in my 2 cents here. I moved to London for 6 months in 2003-4 and if you're willing to work as a bartender, that might be an option. I had an American and an Argentinian friend who went that route. The Argentinian married a Brit and is now a resident.

I managed to find work for myself by looking through one of those Aussie backpacker magazines that you can find by the tube stations. I did catering (kind of like a temp job situation, where one day you'd be working at the college cafe, next day at the hospital commisary, sometimes weeks on end at a particular location) for the entire time I was there. Never even met with my employers. Only contact was via phone. Kinda shady, but I really just wanted to earn some money, any money at that time. Pay was crap, but you can't really complain...I don't know if my situation was common or not, but if not I lucked out working for the only place listed that did absolutely no sort of background checking.

Oddly enough, one of my steadiest jobs was for a conference centre at a Labour Union. My fantastic boss even wanted to hire me to manage the conference center. The big catch was....I'm American. He didn't realize all the red tape involved in procuring a work visa...

Basically, unless you have a work permit/National ID card, you kind of have to take what you can get, if you can get it.

Good luck!
posted by zombiebunny at 8:34 AM on October 23, 2007

I came to the UK 4 years ago after marrying my British husband in the states. I obtained my spousal visa in the states.

I'm afraid I am going to have to agree with everything Ghengis said. You will have an extremely difficult, if not impossible time, finding a legitimate job without some sort of a work visa. It would be much easier to get a job at a bar or restaurant, but I know you said you are not comfortable with that. When I got my job, they were very strict about checking my papers (as were all the employment agencies I applied to) and a few months before my 2 years were up they chased me down to see when I was going to get my visa renewed (called an Indefinite Leave to Remain). They weren't kidding around.

I don't know much about the highly skilled migrant program, but I don't think its easy to get accepted.

You can come on a tourist visa as methylsalicylate mentioned and it is perfectly legal. Though I would agree with Ghengis with not mentioning a boyfriend.

You should check out the US-UK forum which has lots of friendly people who have made the move (east) across the pond. They are very up to speed on all the legalities. A lot of the same people can be found on the more active American Expats in the UK site, but this is a pay site (the other is free). I've been active on both these sites and they both helped me immesurably when I made the move.

Good luck to you, and if you're not already moving there, be sure to visit northern England! We are known for our friendliness!
posted by triggerfinger at 11:42 AM on October 23, 2007

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