Adapting to Life in the UK: A Migrant’s Guide

adapting to life in the uk


Migrating to the UK is a significant life event. Beyond the physical relocation, you will be faced with having to adjust to a new cultural, social, and legal environment. While the UK offers a rich expanse of opportunities and experiences, adapting to life in a new country can be challenging. Being well-prepared will help with the transition.

Whether you’re moving for work, study, family, or other reasons, this guide aims to provide comprehensive information and practical tips to help you adapt to life in the UK. It covers key areas such as work rights, access to education, healthcare, and public services, helping you to understand what to expect and how to make the most of your new life in the UK.


Section A: Work Rights for Migrants in the UK


The right to work in the UK for foreign nationals is contingent upon their immigration status, with each visa category imposing specific conditions and permissions regarding employment.

British citizens and those with settled status, such as ILR, have full work rights. EU/EEA nationals with settled or pre-settled status, holders of various work visas, family members of British citizens or visa holders, and refugees also have work rights. Students have limited work rights, and specific conditions apply to asylum seekers.

Work visa holders have the right to work, but certain restrictions may apply. The most common work visas include the Skilled Worker Visa, Global Talent Visa, and Temporary Worker Visas.

The Skilled Worker Visa is for individuals with a job offer in the UK and requires a sponsorship certificate from an approved employer. The Global Talent Visa is aimed at highly skilled individuals in fields such as science, engineering, and the arts. Temporary Worker visas cover specific categories such as charity work, religious work, and youth mobility schemes.

Each visa type has its own set of rules regarding work permissions. For example, the Skilled Worker Visa allows you to work for your sponsoring employer and undertake supplementary employment under certain conditions. The Global Talent Visa provides greater flexibility, allowing you to change jobs without needing a new visa.

It’s essential to understand the specific restrictions and permissions associated with your visa to avoid breaching the visa conditions.


1. Finding a Job: Tips and Resources


Finding a job in the UK can be a daunting process, but there are numerous resources and strategies to assist you.

Online job portals such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor are excellent starting points. These platforms offer extensive listings and allow you to filter searches based on your skills, experience, and location.

Many recruitment agencies specialise in placing foreign workers in UK jobs. Registering with these agencies can provide access to a broader range of job opportunities and professional advice tailored to your background.

Networking is another crucial aspect of job hunting. Attending industry events, joining professional associations, and connecting with individuals in your field can open up opportunities that may not be advertised publicly.

Tailoring your CV and cover letter to the UK job market is vital. Highlighting relevant experience, qualifications, and aligning your application with the job description increases your chances of securing an interview. Understanding the cultural nuances of the UK workplace, such as the emphasis on soft skills and teamwork, can also be beneficial.


2. Workplace Rights and Protections


Foreign nationals with the right to work in the UK are entitled to the same workplace rights and protections as British citizens. These rights include fair pay, safe working conditions, and protection from discrimination. The National Minimum Wage ensures that all workers receive a fair wage, with rates varying based on age and employment type. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulates workplace safety, ensuring that employers provide a safe and healthy working environment.

Employment contracts are crucial in defining the terms and conditions of your job. It’s essential to read and understand your contract before signing, as it outlines your rights, responsibilities, and benefits.

If you encounter any workplace issues, Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offers free advice on workplace rights. Their role is to help resolve disputes between employers and employees.

Discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under the Equality Act 2010, which protects against unfair treatment based on characteristics such as race, gender, age, and disability. If you experience discrimination, you can make a complaint to your employer under its internal grievance procedure, or external bodies like the Equality and Human Rights Commission or Acas.


3. Tips for Career Advancement


Career advancement in the UK often involves a combination of gaining additional qualifications, expanding your professional network, and demonstrating your value within your organisation.

Pursuing further education or professional certifications can enhance your skills and make you more competitive in the job market. Many employers offer training programmes and support for further education, which can be a valuable resource.

Building strong relationships with colleagues and supervisors is also important. Regularly communicating your career goals and seeking feedback can help you identify opportunities for growth and improvement.

Taking on additional responsibilities and demonstrating a proactive approach to your work can showcase your commitment and capabilities.

Joining professional organisations and attending industry events can expand your network and keep you informed about trends and opportunities in your field. Engaging in continuous learning, whether through formal education or self-directed study, ensures that your skills remain relevant and up-to-date.


Section B: Access to Education


In the UK, the right to access education depends on the individual’s age and immigration status.

Compulsory education is broadly accessible to all children, including asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. This is because the UK education system is inclusive, aiming to provide quality education to all children, regardless of their immigration status. Children of compulsory school age (5 to 16 years old) must attend school, and local authorities are responsible for ensuring that every child has a school place.

However, access to further and higher education is more complex and often requires a specific immigration status, such as a Student visa.


1. Enrolling in Schools and Universities


Enrolling children in primary and secondary schools typically involves applying through the local council. Parents should contact their local authority to find out about the application process, which usually requires proof of address and other relevant documentation. It’s advisable to research and visit potential schools to find the best fit for your child’s needs. Some schools may have waiting lists, so starting the process early is beneficial.

For higher education, the process is different. University applications are managed through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Prospective students need to prepare their academic transcripts, proof of English proficiency (if applicable), and other supporting documents such as personal statements and reference letters.

International students must also meet specific visa requirements. It’s important to check the individual entry requirements for each university and course, as they can vary.


2. Financial Aid and Scholarships


Migrants pursuing higher education in the UK may be eligible for financial aid and scholarships, although eligibility can depend on the type of visa and residency status. UK universities offer a range of scholarships and bursaries to support international students. These can be merit-based or need-based, and some are specifically designed for students from certain countries or regions.

The UK government provides student loans for tuition and maintenance to eligible students. While international students are generally not eligible for these loans, those with settled status or specific types of visas may qualify.

External organisations and charities may also offer scholarships and grants to international students.


3. Adult Education and Language Courses


Adult education in the UK offers foreign nationals opportunities to gain new skills, improve their qualifications, and enhance their employability. Local colleges and community centres often provide a wide range of courses, from vocational training to professional development. These institutions cater to adult learners seeking to continue their education or change careers.

Language proficiency is a key factor in successful integration and career advancement. For those who need to improve their English, the UK offers various English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses. These courses are available through further education colleges, adult learning centres, and community organisations. ESOL courses cover different levels, from beginner to advanced, and often focus on practical language skills for everyday life and work.

Many adult education courses are subsidised or offered at a reduced cost for some foreign nationals, particularly those who are unemployed or on low incomes. Some courses may even be free, depending on your residency status and the local council’s policies. Contact local adult education providers to find out what courses are available and any associated costs.


Section C: Healthcare for Migrants


The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s publicly funded healthcare system, providing a wide range of services, from general practice (GP) consultations to specialist treatments and emergency care. The NHS is primarily funded through taxation, making most services free at the point of use for residents.

Foreign nationals in the UK who have paid the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS) as part of their visa application, including work visa holders, students, and family members of British citizens or settled persons, have access to the NHS on the same basis as UK residents. Asylum seekers and refugees can access NHS services, with asylum seekers receiving free care while their claims are processed. EU/EEA nationals with settled or pre-settled status continue to access the NHS, while new arrivals post-Brexit face different requirements.

Emergency care is available to all, including undocumented migrants, with certain exemptions for specific vulnerable groups.


1. Registering with a GP and Accessing Services


One of the first steps to accessing healthcare in the UK is registering with a General Practitioner (GP). GPs are the primary point of contact for most health concerns and can refer patients to specialists if needed. To register with a GP, you need to choose a local practice and complete a registration form, which usually requires proof of identity and address. Once registered, you can make appointments for various health issues, including routine check-ups, vaccinations, and chronic disease management.

GPs offer a broad range of services, including diagnosis and treatment of illnesses, prescriptions for medications, and preventive care. If you need more specialised treatment, your GP can refer you to the appropriate specialist or hospital. It’s important to note that while most GP services are free, there may be charges for certain services like travel vaccinations and some prescriptions.


2. Health Insurance and Private Healthcare Options


While the NHS provides comprehensive healthcare, some migrants choose to use private healthcare for quicker access to treatments, a broader range of services, or more personalised care. Private healthcare can be accessed directly by paying out-of-pocket or through private health insurance. Private health insurance can cover the cost of private consultations, treatments, and hospital stays, providing faster access to specialists and elective procedures.

Several companies offer private health insurance in the UK, and policies vary widely in terms of coverage and cost. It’s important to compare different plans and consider factors such as waiting periods, coverage limits, and exclusions. For those with specific healthcare needs or preferences, private healthcare can complement NHS services and offer greater flexibility and convenience.


3. Mental Health Resources


Mental health is an integral part of overall well-being, and the UK offers a range of mental health services through the NHS and private providers. NHS mental health services include counselling, therapy, and support for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress. To access these services, you can speak to your GP, who can refer you to a mental health specialist or service.

In addition to GP referrals, the NHS offers self-referral options for certain mental health services, such as talking therapies for common mental health issues. These services are usually provided by local mental health trusts and are designed to be accessible and confidential.

For those seeking additional or alternative support, private mental health services are available and can include therapy, counselling, and psychiatric care. Private services can often provide quicker access and more flexible appointment times compared to NHS options.

There are also numerous charities and organisations in the UK that offer mental health support, such as Mind, Samaritans, and Rethink Mental Illness. These organisations provide helplines, online resources, and community support for those in need.


Section D: Public Services and Community Integration


The UK offers a wide range of public services that are essential for daily life and community integration. Libraries are a valuable resource, providing access to books, computers, free Wi-Fi, and various community programs such as language courses and children’s activities. To use these services, you simply need to register for a library card, which is usually free.

Transportation in the UK is well-developed, with extensive networks of buses, trains, and trams in urban areas. The London Underground (Tube) is a particularly important service for those living in or visiting the capital. Public transport is managed by various regional authorities, and information on routes, timetables, and fares can be found on their websites. Many cities offer travel cards or contactless payment options, making commuting more convenient. It’s helpful to familiarise yourself with local transport options to navigate your new surroundings efficiently.


1. Community Centres and Support Groups


Community centres are pivotal in helping migrants integrate into their new environment. These centres often provide various services, including recreational activities, educational workshops, and social events. They serve as hubs for meeting new people and building a support network. Many community centres offer specialised programmes for migrants, such as language classes, job search assistance, and cultural orientation sessions.

Support groups, both formal and informal, play a crucial role in easing the transition for migrants. These groups can be based on shared experiences, cultural backgrounds, or specific needs such as parenting or mental health support. Joining such groups can provide emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of belonging.


2. Legal Aid and Advisory Services


Legal aid services are available to assist migrants with various issues, including immigration matters, housing, employment disputes, and family law. Organisations such as Citizens Advice and local law centres offer free or low-cost advice and representation.

Citizens Advice provides confidential advice online, over the phone, and in person. Their services cover a wide range of issues, from legal rights and financial advice to consumer issues and health concerns. Law centres, which are independent charities, provide specialist legal advice and representation. These centres often have expertise in areas particularly relevant to migrants, such as asylum, human rights, and discrimination cases.

For immigration-specific advice, organisations like the Refugee Council and Migrant Help offer specialised support. These organisations can assist with visa applications, asylum claims, and other immigration-related issues, ensuring that migrants receive the guidance they need to navigate the complex immigration system.


3. Tips for Cultural Adaptation and Community Involvement


Adapting to a new culture can be challenging, but there are several strategies to make the process smoother. Learning the local language is one of the most important steps. Enrolling in English language courses, whether through community centres, local colleges, or online platforms, can significantly improve your ability to communicate and integrate.

Engaging with the local community is another effective way to adapt. Volunteering is a great opportunity to meet people, practice English, and contribute to the community. Many organisations, including charities, schools, and local events, welcome volunteers and provide meaningful roles that can also enhance your CV.

Participating in cultural and social activities helps build connections and understanding. Attending local festivals, joining hobby groups, and visiting cultural institutions such as museums and theatres can provide insights into British culture and traditions. Additionally, many cities have multicultural organisations that celebrate and promote diverse cultural heritage, offering a space to share your own culture while learning about others.

Keeping an open mind and being patient with yourself during the adaptation process is essential. It’s normal to experience a range of emotions, from excitement to homesickness. Seeking support from fellow migrants, whether through formal support groups or informal networks, can provide comfort and practical advice.


Section E: Summary


Adapting to life in the UK as a migrant involves understanding various aspects of daily life, from employment and education to healthcare and public services. Key points to remember include:


a. Work Rights: You must comply with the conditions of your visa type or immigration status. If you have the right to work in the UK, familiarise yourself with workplace rights and protections to ensure fair treatment.


b. Education Access: Many migrants have the right to education. Enrolling in schools and universities involves specific processes, and financial aid or scholarships may be available. Adult education and language courses are essential for improving skills and employability.


c. Healthcare: The NHS provides comprehensive healthcare services, with registration with a GP being a critical step. Private healthcare options are available for those seeking quicker or more specialised care. Mental health resources are also accessible through the NHS and private providers.


d. Public Services and Community Integration: Public services like libraries and transportation systems are essential for daily life. Community centres and support groups offer vital assistance and social connections. Legal aid services help navigate legal rights and responsibilities, while cultural adaptation is facilitated through language learning and community involvement.


Staying informed about your rights, services available to you, and community resources is essential for a successful transition and integration into life in the UK. Regularly seeking information and updates can help you make informed decisions and avoid potential issues. Building a network of connections within your local community, including both fellow migrants and local residents, can provide support, friendship, and valuable insights into British culture and society.


Section F: Additional Resources
The official UK government website offers comprehensive information on visas, immigration, and settling in the UK.


Information on accessing healthcare services in the UK, including details about the NHS, the Immigration Health Surcharge, and registering with a GP.


UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
Detailed guidance on visa applications, immigration rules, and citizenship.


ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
Provides information and advice on employment rights and workplace issues in the UK.


Citizens Advice
Offers free, confidential advice on various issues, including employment, benefits, housing, and immigration.


UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service)

The official service for applying to undergraduate courses in the UK.


British Council
Provides information on studying in the UK, including scholarships, English language courses, and cultural integration.


Refugee Council
Supports refugees and asylum seekers in the UK with integration services, including housing, employment, and legal advice.


The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford
Provides independent analysis of data on migration and immigrants in the UK.


A charity providing advice and support for people facing housing issues in the UK.


Learn English UK
Offers resources for learning English, including online courses, practice materials, and information on English language tests.


ESOL Courses
Free online courses for improving English language skills, tailored for different levels of proficiency.



Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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