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Blog>Guides>Working in the UK as an American: Full Expat Guide

Working in the UK as an American: Full Expat Guide

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The UK has long been a popular destination for American expats looking for new job opportunities. In fact, according to a recent survey, the UK is the third most popular country for American expats to live and work in.

If you’re considering making the move to the UK, find out all you need to know in our full expat guide to working in the UK as an American below. We cover everything from how to find a job in the UK to work visas and beyond. It’ll help make your transition to life in the UK as seamless as possible.

Why Work in the UK?

There are many reasons to consider working in the UK. Home to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the UK is a diverse nation with so much to see and do. Some of the world's leading businesses and institutions are based in the United Kingdom, offering a variety of UK jobs for foreigners. Employment in the UK also provides many other benefits for foreign workers, including:

  • A strong, stable economy and labor market. The UK has one of the most globalized economies in the world, ranking fifth in the KOF Globalization Index in 2021.

  • High quality of life. The UK has a very high standard of living thanks to excellent healthcare, education, and transport systems. As recently as 2019, the UK held a world ranking of 13th on the UN’s Human Development Index — four spots ahead of the U.S.

  • Holiday entitlement. Full-time workers employed in the UK are entitled to at least 28 days of paid holiday, which is known as annual leave or statutory leave entitlement. This is a stark contrast to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the U.S., which doesn’t make it a legal requirement to pay employees for time not worked.

Do Americans Need a Visa to Work in the UK?

To live and work in the United Kingdom, U.S. citizens must obtain a work visa from the British government. If you’re wondering how to get a work visa in the UK, you’ll be happy to know that the process is relatively simple. You’ll first need a job offer from a UK employer, be 18 years of age or older, and have a passport that's valid for at least six months.

The UK has different types of work visas including the ones listed below, ranging from short-term to long-term, which can be determined by the sector or industry you work in. If you're unsure about what type of visa is right for you, you can contact the British embassy or consulate in your home country for more information.

Most Common UK Work Visas

The UK offers a variety of work visas that allow people from all over the world to come and work in the country. Whether you're looking to work in Britain on a short-term basis or you want to start a new life there, there's an England work visa that's right for you. Below are some of the most common work visas in the UK.

Skilled Worker Visa

This visa allows qualified individuals to live and work in the UK for up to five years. Eligibility depends on the type of work you’ll be doing. The visa requires a letter of sponsorship from the potential employer. Additionally, the job in question must meet specific criteria with regard to salary and expectations in order to be approved by the UK Home Office.

High Potential Individual Visa

If you’ve graduated from a high-ranking university within the past five years, you may be eligible to apply for a High Potential Individual (HPI) visa. This visa gives individuals permission to stay in the UK for at least two years with the opportunity to switch to a different visa type when the original visa has run out.

Senior or Specialist Worker Visa

This visa allows pre-existing foreign employees of a company to live and work in the UK at their employer’s UK branch. Individuals must meet certain criteria — such as job and salary requirements — in addition to providing a letter of sponsorship from their employer confirming their job offer in the UK. Once approved, applicants can stay in the UK for up to nine years.

Innovator Visa

The innovator visa is designed for individuals who want to set up and start a business in the UK. Applicants must present a new, innovative, and viable business plan, which must be approved by an endorsing body recognised by the UK government. The visa is valid for three years, and can be extended every three years subsequently.

The UK Home Office will thoroughly check an applicant’s eligibility for a UK work visa, and candidates will need to demonstrate proof of financial means when submitting their application. Visa application costs vary depending on the type of visa you’re applying for and where you’re applying from, but this can often be covered by your employer.

Applications are made online, and if you’re wondering how long it takes to get a UK work visa, you’ll typically be notified of the visa outcome around three weeks after submission.

Top Companies That Hire Americans in the UK

Looking for a job in the United Kingdom can be daunting even for British citizens. But thanks to the strong economy and stable political landscape among other factors, there are plenty of jobs in the UK for foreigners. More specifically, there are many American companies with a presence in the UK that are always on the lookout for top-tier talent. Some of the best companies to work for in the UK include:

  • Salesforce: a software company with its UK headquarters in London

  • Microsoft: a technology company with its UK headquarters in Reading

  • Deloitte: a financial services company with its UK headquarters in London

  • AstraZeneca: a biopharmaceutical company with its UK headquarters in Cambridge

  • JPMorgan Chase: a financial services company with its UK headquarters in London

  • Amazon: an online retail company with its UK headquarters in London

  • Facebook: a social media company with its UK headquarters in London

  • Hilton: a hospitality company with its UK headquarters in Watford

  • Netflix: an Internet entertainment services company with its UK headquarters in London

  • Land Rover and Jaguar: an automotive company with its UK headquarters in Coventry

While the job market is competitive, many firms are willing to invest in American workers. To take advantage of these opportunities, be sure to research what jobs are in demand in the UK to find the best UK companies that are hiring. By doing so, you’ll be one step closer to landing a great job and making working and living in the UK a reality.

Best UK Cities to Live as an American Expat

There are many factors to consider when choosing a city for relocation. As an American expat, there are a few UK cities that stand out as being particularly welcoming and accommodating. Whether you're looking for a lively metropolis or something a bit more low-key, the UK has something for you. Here are some of the best UK cities for US working expats.

Manchester

Streets of Manchester in the city center.

Manchester is a bustling city in the northwest of England. It's home to a number of iconic landmarks, including Manchester Cathedral and the Royal Exchange Theatre. The city is also known for its music scene with a number of famous bands and artists such as Oasis, The Stone Roses, and The Smiths hailing from there.

Manchester is recognized as being the world’s first industrialized city. In recent years, Manchester has undergone a series of renovations to boost research and enterprise. The city is now a key location for a number of foreign-owned companies, with typical industry areas including digital and creative, biotechnology, media, and manufacturing.

Interested in Manchester?

Cambridge

Cambridge's canal lit up at dusk.

Located in the south of England, the city of Cambridge is globally known for its innovation and rich history. Home to some of the world's top universities, the city is a hub for science and technology, and is consistently ranked as one of the UK’s most beautiful cities.

There are also plenty of opportunities for work, whether you're looking for a job in academia or one of the many high-tech companies that are based there. The city has strength in various industry sectors, including research and development, software consultancy, and pharmaceuticals. In addition to this, living in Cambridge means you'll have access to all the city has to offer, including everything from its world-class museums and theaters to its exceptional restaurants and inviting cafes.

Interested in Cambridge?

London

The bank district of central London with famous skyscrapers and other landmarks at sunset with a blue sky.

Living and working in London is an experience like very few others. Situated in the southeast of England, London is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with a remarkable past and bright future. The cost of living is relatively high in comparison to the rest of the UK, but so are salaries. There are plenty of jobs for Americans in London, including opportunities in various industries such as finance, media, and tourism.

London is also an incredibly diverse city. With people from all over the world living and working side by side, it is one of the best places to live in England for an American. What’s more, there will be plenty to keep you busy, whether you're into exploring museums and landmarks or you prefer a more active lifestyle. You'll never find yourself without something to do in London.

Interested in London?

Edinburgh

Old town Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

The capital of Scotland — Edinburgh — is a world-renowned city with lots to offer its residents. The city’s longstanding, welcoming traditions and customs mean you’ll live among friendly people and be in a better position to embrace their way of life. For a major city, the cost of living is pretty affordable and it’s very easy to get around.

Top industries in the Scottish capital include finance, technology, and retail. What’s more, the city boasts the strongest economy of any UK city outside London. If you're looking for a bustling, culturally diverse city to live and work in, Edinburgh may well be the perfect place for you.

Interested in Edinburgh?

Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the River Avon near Bristol.

The city of Bristol is located in the southwest of the country on the banks of River Avon. In addition to being an energetic city with plenty to see and do, it's also a great place to live and work in England. Bristol has a diverse economy and is home to several large companies, including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Aardman Animations.

The city also has a lot to offer in terms of culture and lifestyle. With a vibrant music and arts scene, numerous parks and green spaces, as well as countless hidden gems like dreamy bars and fantastic theaters, you’ll always be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do in your free time.

Interested in Bristol?

UK Work Culture

The United Kingdom has a strong work culture, which demands employees to take pride in what they do. Thanks to the forward-thinking nature of the UK’s working landscape, people are always looking for ways to improve. There is a lot of emphasis on education, training, and health and safety, and it's very common for people in the UK to continue learning throughout their careers. This ensures that the workforce always stays up to date with the latest technologies and trends, which helps the country maintain its place as one of the world’s most advanced societies.

UK Working Hours

The average full-time worker works around 37 hours per week in the UK. This is one of the lowest average working hours among OECD countries — a group of 38 member countries including world leaders like the United States, UK, Switzerland, and Germany that discuss and develop economic and social policy. It means UK workers have more time to enjoy their leisure time, pursue hobbies, or spend time with family and friends.

The UK government also enforces a directive called Working Time Regulations, which states that employees cannot work more than an average of 48 hours per week. This is calculated over a reference period of 17 weeks, and is used to ensure that employees are being given adequate time to rest and recuperate outside work.

Holidays

All UK full-time workers are entitled to a minimum of 20 days off plus eight bank holidays, for a total of at least 28 days annual leave. The UK also has a number of public holidays throughout the year. Many of these holidays are celebrated with parades, festivals, and other special events. Some of the most popular UK public holidays include:

  • New Year’s Day: January 1st

  • Good Friday: Dates vary between March and April

  • Easter Monday: Dates vary between March and April

  • Early May Bank Holiday: First Monday in May

  • Spring Bank Holiday: Last Monday in May

  • Late Summer Bank Holiday: Last Monday in August

  • Christmas Day: December 25th

  • Boxing Day: December 26th

Maternity & Paternity Leave

In the UK, both mothers and fathers are entitled to take time off to care for a new baby. This leave is protected by law, and can be taken all at once, or in split blocks throughout the first year. During paid leave, parents can receive either a percentage of their work income or a statutory rate.

The UK's maternity leave provision is capped at 52 weeks of paid leave, with the first two weeks as obligatory paid leave. Paternity leave consists of two weeks of paid leave to be taken post-birth. However, couples can choose to share their leave entitlement between them, for a total of 50 weeks of leave. Both birth parents and adoptive parents are eligible to take parental leave.

Additionally, parents are entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid leave per child, to be taken before each child’s 18th birthday. This is capped at a maximum of four weeks per year unless the employer agrees otherwise.

Parental leave is protected by law and employers cannot terminate employment during this time, aside from exceptional circumstances including gross misconduct or a serious breach of contract.

Taxes for American Expats in the UK

If you’re planning on living and working in the UK, you may be wondering about your tax situation. While taxes can be complex, there are a few key things you should know.

  • You’ll need to file a U.S. tax return and a UK one. Taxes in the United States are based on citizenship, not place of residency, so you must file taxes for both countries. However, there are ways to avoid dual taxation.

  • You may be eligible for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. As of August 2022, expats can exclude foreign-earned income up to the value of $112,000 from their tax returns.

  • You may also be eligible for a Foreign Tax Credit. This allows taxpayers to claim tax credits from the U.S. government to the value of income tax paid in the UK.

When living and working abroad, it’s very important to stay up to date on the tax laws in both countries. The U.S. and the UK have different tax laws, so you must endeavor to understand how both countries tax American expats to avoid accidental tax evasion.

Review & Plan

The process of planning to live and work in the UK as an American citizen can seem daunting, but it’s fairly straightforward if you know how to go about it. Once you’ve figured out how to get a job in the UK, you’re already well on your way to realizing your dream of living and working in the country. Keep the following pointers in mind to streamline the process:

  • Ensure that you extensively research the cost, culture, and requirements of life in your UK city of choice.

  • Search for companies open to employing U.S. citizens.

  • Find and apply to the most ideal jobs for you.

  • Determine the correct visa you’ll need and make your application online.

By taking the time to review and plan the big move, you can make your relocation to the UK as smooth as possible. Whether you’re looking for adventure or opportunity, the UK is a great place to call home.

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