Moving to the UK: guidance for a smooth transition into a new country
Hi, we are Himani and Shri, NHS doctors and IMGs from India. Along with the excitement of starting life in a new country, new job and new everything, we understand how stressful and worrisome it all can be. In today's post, we would like to help you make your move to the NHS and the UK as smooth as possible. Here are some tips on moving to the UK, surviving the first month and what to prepare yourself for.
The immense pleasure of having landed your first job and an opportunity to start your NHS career soon gives way to a stronger emotion. That of anxiety, self-doubt, a fear of the unknown and one might get overwhelmed by all that remains to be done. Fret not, as we would like to break down all that you need to think of / sort out to plan your move without losing your mind.
Get your paperwork and UK visa in order
First up, get your paperwork in order, once you have accepted a job offer, ensure that you keep track of the email trail, replying to any new requests for documents or personal statements your employer might require to process the paperwork.
Once you get your CoS Certificate of sponsorship, apply for your Health and Care Worker visa. Read our blog on A Health and Care Worker visa: Advice and Guidance. It helps make a list of documents you need for the visa to be processed and begin applying for these as soon as you have a conditional offer letter as some documents might take a couple of weeks to be generated. Plan ahead of time and put in a request for documents like:
Criminal records / Police verification certificate
Certificate of Good standing from your Medical council
Tuberculosis Clearance certificate (if you come from a country where TB is endemic)
Once you have completed the initial negotiations (your pay based on previous work experience/ study budget/ assignment of an educational/clinical supervisor etc) & clarified the terms of work you will receive the unconditional offer letter with your finalised contract. Check for the correctness of the title of the post, tenure and specifics to avoid any surprises later.
While applying for a visa most people wonder what to mention as their address in the UK. This is for the despatch and collection of the Biometric Residence permit, the most important ID proof for an immigrant in the UK. For someone who has no family or friends in the UK, it is best to mention the address of your workplace as the BRP will then be delivered to the nearest post office.
So you’ve put in your visa application and are now left with some time until you make that journey to the UK. There are still some things that you could do before you catch the flight. Depending on the time of the year you intend to start, you might want to indulge yourself in shopping for weather-appropriate clothes, travel essentials, basic groceries and condiments to keep the homesickness at bay in the initial few months.
Make a list of things you would want at your disposal soon after you land. Packets of instant noodles, ready to eat meals, toiletries and basic cutlery always come in handy. You may apply for a travel card with a decent amount on it besides carrying some cash in hand. Most of the transactions in the UK including cab bookings, grocery & food shopping are cashless transactions. So do come prepared for a lot of card payments while you set things up.
When you visit the Visa facilitation centre for your biometrics appointment, you will more often than not, be handed a sim card from a UK based network service provider which comes with a “pay as you go plan” once activated in the UK. This is a very convenient way of staying in touch with family soon after you land in the UK. If not, don’t stress yourself too much as service providers like giffgaff deliver a sim card to your address for free / you can always get one from your local store, without much of a hassle.
While packing be mindful of the baggage allowance of your specific airlines and the permissible bag dimensions.
The pandemic sure has changed our lives and travel in many ways, but guess what? The UK has now officially done away with all the COVID associated travel restrictions, irrespective of your vaccination status. Read more on https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus. The latest travel advisory details that one does not have to do a PCR test, quarantine or fill a passenger locator form to enter the UK, whether vaccinated or not.
So you’re all set now, you planned well, did all that you had to but hey! did you take some time for yourself? Go meet up with the friends you will miss most, spend all the time you can with your family, it is these memories you make that you will continue to cherish after your move.
You can begin your search for accommodation in the UK even before departing from your home country. Based on your budget you will be able to choose from a variety of setups- Single rooms in flatshares (where the kitchen/ bathroom are shared with 3 or 4 others), ensuite rooms (with an attached bathroom all to yourself), studio flats, or entire units -1/2 BHK.
OpenRent, Rightmove, Spareroom, and Airbnb are good places to start. It is recommended to arrange for viewings preferably in person before you enter any sort of a contract with the landlords. Many prefer starting off at an Airbnb for a couple of weeks and then visiting the shortlisted sites in person to compare the location, amenities and rent before making their final decision. In bigger cities like London, housing can get tricky if you make rushed decisions. Flatshares come with their own set of pros and cons. Pros being a manageable rent, company of people and Cons being shared amenities leading to disagreements and conflicts, challenges associated with maintenance & cleanliness.
Therefore it is wise to choose a property managed by an agency as they act as mediators with the landlords providing you stability and safeguarding you from unfair evictions. If you do choose an independent unit, you will have to ask for some assistance with setting up your utility bills - i.e. the council tax, electricity/gas, water bills once you take possession of a property. Service providers have the convenient offer of direct debit which means that they will deduct a pre-determined amount each month towards paying bills. This helps you build your credit score in the UK (important if you plan to invest in property in the long run) and teaches you a lot about managing your finances well.
You can read some other tips on how to find accommodation in our previous blogs Settling into the first NHS job: advice and top tips and Settling in the UK – Top 10 tips.
As a newbie in the country, it could be a good idea to seek hospital accommodation or Airbnb for the initial time period to allow yourself time to get acclimatised to things. This will give you enough time to visit the shortlisted sites in person to compare the location, amenities and rent prices before making their final decision.
Collecting your Biometric Resident Permit
After you have arrived in the UK, you will need to collect your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). Your BRP is going to be known as your visa from now on, you will need it for all important things like getting accommodation and completing your pre-employment checks. You will need to collect it from the post office mentioned in the letter you received along with your successfully completed visa process. It usually takes around 2-3 weeks after your visa has been stamped for the card to be delivered to the post office. In rare cases, it may take up to a month if there are any delays. Always keep your BRP safe, as replacements might be costly and long to wait for.
Getting yourself started at work
To be cleared for work, you will have to attend an Occupational health check. You will be informed of the date, time and address for the appointment. It would involve a brief consultation, questions about your general health, drawing a set of blood tests and acknowledgement of any recently performed tests from your home country (or proof of previous immunisation). You will be contacted in a week or less to let you know if there are any further tests needed or if you are cleared for work.
People from TB endemic countries are either asked to show their BCG scar or proof of having had a Mantoux test. Those who have neither, have to wait for the results of the blood tests (so-called T-spot test) and based on that may be asked to have a chest X-ray. If found to be carrying latent tuberculosis, some healthcare workers are required to complete a 4-month course of Rifampicin to minimise the chances of reactivation of TB.
You will also have to apply for a local bank account. This might be quite an experience for someone who has absolutely no credit history in the UK. Some banks may be very nit-picky about the sort of documents and address proof they deem acceptable. Do ask your HR for assistance with obtaining a letter from the employer as proof of your address and identity, confirming your annual pay.
Once a bank account is created, you will then have to visit HR at your hospital with your BRP (collected from the local post office), bank account details (to set up your pay) and get your access to the hospital sorted. You will receive your ID card, login credentials and will be shown around the hospital. Meet your line manager (the Consultant you are expected to report to) - their name will be mentioned in all the previous emails with the offer letters that were sent to you.
Opening a bank account can be either be very easy or very difficult. Most banks will require you to have a letter from your HR with your UK address, ensure to communicate with the recruitment team regarding this before going to the bank.
Ensure that you have asked for and are given a good shadowing period of 2-3 weeks. Take your time to settle into the new system and be kind to yourself. Always ask before doing things and do not hesitate to ask for help. Everyone likes a safe doctor.
The first job is very challenging because you will be new to the NHS system, and it will definitely take a minimum of 3 months to get to know about how the NHS works, and for some of you it may even take 6 months to adjust to the system. Read our blog from UK-based IMGs about Settling into the first NHS job: advice and top tips
It is important to have an idea about your payslip when you start working in the NHS. You would need to know at least the basic structure of your payslip and tax codes. Payslips are hard to understand, so need to know the main things to look out for. Read our blog on NHS doctor's payslip: a guide to understanding your salary to be financially wise.
Finding a footing in your new neighbourhood
Familiarise yourself with your neighbourhood:
Identify the local library/community centre - these are free for all and offer a wonderful sanctuary to study or unwind.
Search for parks / open green spaces to keep those Vitamin D levels up.
Check out your local post office, tube/tram/bus station, grocery stores and cash machines. Get to know your neighbours/flatmates and build a good rapport with them, especially if you are in the UK by yourself as they are your family in the UK.
Explore your city using apps like Moovit / Citymapper / Visit a city.
All throughout be wary of your surroundings especially in the bigger cities as petty thieves and pickpockets frequent the same places. Incidents of phone/bag snatching are on the rise and it is best to travel light with minimal cash.
Once you have settled into your new place the next thing that you might be wondering about might be what do I eat now? There are several affordable supermarkets around the UK, to name a few local favourites Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Asda. You will be able to buy affordable groceries in these stores. If cooking is not your cup of tea, there are several cheap ready to eat meals available in almost all supermarkets, you can grab yourself anything from a sandwich to rice and curry. Read more about food in our previous blogs Settling into the first NHS job: advice and top tips and How to settle in the UK: guidance and advice for an easy transition into your new environment.
How to fit in
As Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal” and to fit in, in a foreign land one must build their own little community, one that they can rely on in times of need, one that gives them a sense of belonging. Check out Facebook for IMG groups active in your city, attend get-togethers, socialise outside of your profession with others sharing a common interest through apps like Meetup.
Try to understand more about British culture, humour and popular references so that you can strike a conversation easily. The more you mix around outside of your community, the more you learn. It is the initial anxiety/shyness that most IMGs need to overcome, to broaden their horizons.
Being a doctor is not just about knowledge and skills, it’s about how we communicate them with our patients and colleagues. In Britain, there is a strong emphasis on collaboration with the patient, involving them in their care and working as a team. Unlike in some other cultures, British people expect to be involved in their care and often need to build trust with the doctor before they respect their information and decisions. Communication skills and the ability to build rapport are therefore paramount.
Need more tips?
So spread your wings & soar high, safe in the knowledge that things will only get better from here onwards.
Himani & Shri
If you have any questions feel free to ask on the TrewLink website, we would be happy to help.
If you found our blog articles helpful, please share them with your IMG friends & colleagues who may also benefit from reading our blog.
Written by Himani & Shri
Edited by Julia