The relocation process to the UK – acquiring the BNO Visa and managing all the logistics and variables involved when starting afresh – can be quite complicated. Whether it be home rental search, schooling finding, buying a property, shipping, Visas & Immigration processes or perhaps just lifestyle management once you land… we are here to navigate those logistics and make your UK relocation an exciting reality.
Whether you are moving alone, with a partner or with family, the UK has a lot to offer in all aspects of your life, from career progression, quality of life and liberties, to experiencing a flavour of all cultures worldwide; the UK really is a cosmopolitan country open to all! There is just so much opportunity to try different things, be part of an incredible social scene, and have access to some of the best education – schools and Universities – and healthcare worldwide.
To help you get started we’ve compiled a definitive guide below, built around a realistic time-line so you can co-ordinate, understand and action each stage of your process moving from Hong Kong to the UK. Relocation is what we do, so if you have any questions, or would like to know more about our services please do get in touch!
Buying a property in the UK
It is hard however, to know where to buy, what is a good deal, and what you can expect for your money when you are an individual who is either not living – or hasn’t for very long – in the UK. Depending on your needs we can advice, support, and action the entire process of buying your property. With an abundance of in-house market knowledge and experience purchasing properties, how can we help you?
Obviously depending on your situation you may be in a position to buy a property out-right or obtain a mortgage. There are no legal restrictions on expats, foreign nationals, visa holders or non-residents buying a property in the UK.
For those wishing to obtain a mortgage, it may be a little more complex but not unfeasible. Lenders do usually like customers who’ve been living in the UK for at least 12 months, however the market does offer specialist mortgage lenders who will consider mortgage applications from Hong Kong nationals with a BNO visa as soon as they arrive in the UK. These lenders don’t base their lending on your credit history, however the only obstacle you may face is around employment. These providers will lend on seeing a secure contract of full-time employment, otherwise you will need to provide – after three months at least – payslips to evidence your salary over this period. The other criteria you will need to meet are:
- Full-time employment.
- 1-2 years remaining on your visa, the BNO visa holders on a 30-month or a five-year visa are eligible.
- Mortgage deposit, you will need atlas 25% of the property’s value (this is the minimum amount foreign nationals usually need to be approved).
There are three types of mortgage, a fixed rate mortgage, a variable-rate mortgage, a discount mortgage, tracker mortgage, capped rate mortgages and offset mortgages. The UK system will consider each borrower’s circumstances as unique, consequently some lenders will be more generous than others, with over 50 mortgage lenders in the UK, it is best to research, which we can do on your behalf! The criteria with which they will assess your application will be the following:
- Your total household income – as a rule you can borrow 4.5 times your household income.
- The value of the property you wish to purchase – note the bigger the deposit the better mortgage rate you can get. Before you’re offered a mortgage a full valuation will be carried out.
- Lender’s estimation of what you can afford – your records of cashflow, and current available assets.
For more information about mortgage fees and to understand better our system, please do get in touch!
These mortgages are offered to foreign nationals who wish to invest in the UK property market. You will need:
- 25% deposit
- The rental income the property generates will cover the mortgage payments with profit too.
- Most lenders will expect you have full-time employment, so you have income to cover the event of non-paying tenants etc.
- BNO visa is preferably already in place, before you try and secure the mortgage.
This option is great to establish a base in the UK, as it is an investment short-term with the view to having the option of a residential status in the future.
Whether you wish to buy a property, obtain a mortgage or a buy-to-let mortgage the process in simple terms will be the following:
- Open a UK bank account
- Organise all documentation needed: evidence of identity, deposit funds & income, all visa paperwork
- Get in touch with us, and we can get the process started for you!
6 Months out…
Your UK Visa requirements…
A successful application for a BN(O) visa will mean that you and your eligible family members will be able to come to the UK to live, study, and work in nearly any capacity en route to achieving citizenship. After 5 years in the UK, you and your family will be able to apply for settlement status, with the view to applying for citizenship after a further 12 months. From the beginning of this time period, you will have access to public services like healthcare and schools.
When you apply, you will need to provide a valid passport or other travel documentation that shows your identity and nationality. Furthermore, you will need to provide evidence of the following…
When applying online: how you prove your identity depends on what type of passport you have… If you use a valid BNO or Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport you do not need to travel to the UK using the same passport. You will either:
- use the ‘UK Immigration ID Check’ app to scan your BNO, HKSAR or EEA passport – you’ll also create or sign into your UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) account.
- go to an appointment at a visa application centre to give your fingerprints and a photo (the centre may need to keep your passport and documents while they process the application, the nearest centre may be in another country. – this is to get a biometric residence permit (see below).
When you apply, you will be instructed further as to what you will need to do.
- Permanent home in Hong Kong – 3 documents which could be: Household or Utility Bills, payslips, bank statements, letter of confirmation of employment, letter from the local council or government, records of rent or mortgage payments, visa or residence permit.
- Enough money to support yourself and your family for 6 months in the UK – Documents accepted: bank or savings account statements, payslips, proof of income if self-employed, proof of income from rental property, letter confirming offer of accommodation from friends or family, etc. At least one piece of evidence must be dated within 31 days of you visa submissions date.
- Relationship with family members – Marriage or civil partnership certificate, birth certificate or adoption certificate for children, evidence that their permanent home address is the same as yours.
- Tuberculosis test certificate – certificate must not be older than 6 months.
In order to enter the UK, you will need to have a tuberculosis test certificate as detailed above. You may also need other vaccinations or medical checks to comply with British Law. It is best to speak with your medical practitioner and inquire what vaccinations you may need to travel to and live in the UK; it is also recommended to do this with a good amount of time before your departure as some vaccinations may require more than one dose.
The cost of moving to the UK…
It is good to have a realistic and perhaps, even an over estimated idea of the cost of your move. As stated above you will need to prove you have enough money to support you and your family for 6 months before you arrive. This is inclusive of a budget for housing costs and an amount in savings that is at the least the same as someone would receive Income Support in the UK. The amount also depends on how many family members are applying with you too. For example, you’ll approximately need: £2,000 as a single adult, £3,100 as a couple with a child, £4,600 as a couple with 3 children and £9,200 as a couple with 2 parents and 2 adult children.
The other factors you need to consider are the Visa fee which is (for each family member):
- £180 if you’re applying for 2 years and 6 months
- £250 if applying for 5 years
A healthcare surcharge (paid as part of your application) so you can use the NHS.
- £1,560 per adult, £1175 per child if you’re staying for 2 years and 6 months
- £3,120 per adult, £2,350 per child if you’re staying for 5 years
The other costs to consider are:
- Travel costs (flights, potentially transport from the airport to your accommodation)
- Pet relocation costs
- Shipping costs for your belongings – We can help you with this
- Temporary housing
- Furnishings and household goods
- Rental fees – first month’s rent, 4-6 weeks for security deposit etc (considered within your budget for housing)
Cultural training & English lessons…
There are various communities and charitable organisations established in London to integrate, share and inform the culture and community of Hong Kong with the British society and vice versa. They extend helping hands to those arriving or already living in the UK by facilitating integration, promoting racial harmony and enhancing socio-economic relations. Hongkongers, HCCS HKAS are a few we suggest you investigate, across these organisations you can find legal advice; practical assistance, mental health support, health advocacy and interpretation; social, cultural and professional links; business networks and knowledge building.
A few places we suggest you start looking at for English lessons would the British Council ESOL Nexus, English My Way with a 24 week blended learning programme to support adults who have love English language skills; the BBC Learning English or the British Council. To have an idea of your starting level it would be wise to complete the Cambridge English Assessment as this is a great way to gauge what help you may need. The following is a guide for parents who use English as an Additional Language too.
The UK is an extremely cosmopolitan country, famous for its diversity, abundance of different cultures and communities from all over the globe. There have been many waves of ethnic Chinese migrants arriving in the UK in the last 70 years, in the 1950s the number grew to 154,363 in 1981 census, two decades later it grew by nearly three folds to 430,000 in 2011; therefore, today there is a substantial East and Southeast Asian community. However, it should not be forgotten that there is still a strong sense of British culture that is adopted by most. To ease your transition to living in the UK we would always suggest to participate in some cultural training, and perhaps, more importantly English language classes if necessary. This training will give you the cultural sensitivity and competence that will reduce the risk of major miscommunication. The skills you will acquire will allow you to understand, work and flourish within your new culture, and to ultimately feel at home.
A ‘Look and see’ trip for a few days…
It’s never a good idea to relocate somewhere, that you haven’t either been to before or in recent times. The idea of a ‘Look and see’ trip is to get a real feel for your destination, if only as a tourist for a few days. The trip will help immensely with understanding the geography, scale and feel of the UK and your chosen city; and will help you make informed decisions, from afar, later on in your relocation process. This trip should be viewed as a good investment in your relocation and new life, as it will give you a very clear idea of the UK, and the exciting life you’re embarking on! Please do contact us, if you would like to know more and for support with your trip!
3-5 months out…
Submit visa paperwork…
We advise at around this time you make your application, as once you have proven your identity and provided your documents you will usually receive a decision within 12 weeks.
If you decide to apply online, you can do so here. You are able to start, save it and resume it at your leisure, once you have set up an account via a sign-up email you will receive.
The government may contact you if your supporting documents need to be verified; there is any information missing; you need to attend an interview; or to clarify your personal circumstances.
On receiving a successful application, you must travel to the UK within 90 days, if you went to a visa application centre to prove your identity; or before your visa expires if you used the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app to prove your identity.
Pet travel & vaccinations…
Guide dogs and emotional support animals are subject to different restrictions, and some countries have a classification for emotional support animals which can be prescribed by a mental health professional. These, alongside guide dog regulations, can be slightly tricky, we can take care of this and ensure all regulation is complied with.
Something to keep in mind is that although the UK is a pet-loving nation unfortunately many apartment blocks do not allow tenants to keep pets… If you wish to bring a pet to the UK, it will greatly restrict the number of properties available to you and your main focus will have to be on finding a property that accepts pets.
Pet relocation can be tricky as every country has different regulations, we can manage your pet’s travel documentation, ensuring all legislation is followed, and that your furry friend arrives safely. Your pet is able to enter the UK if it has been microchipped, has a pet passport or a third country official veterinary certificate, and has been vaccinated against rabies. This can take some time and is also another cost to account for. It is best to do this with plenty of time, otherwise your pet could be put into quarantine or sent back if you don’t have the correct documents; or it has not been properly prepared for travel, and you will be responsible for any fees or charges.
Find a job…
The UK is the global hub for many many industries including the financial and professional services sector, arts and fashion, education, commerce, transport, research and development. However, finding a job is never a simple process, it can take some time, so we suggest you start researching and applying early on. The National Careers Services is a good source of information, a way to learn more about the job application process and writing a CV; the dos and don’ts of the hiring process in the UK; and any general practical help you may need. We also suggest you start your search on Indeed, LinkedIn and Reed; or perhaps if you’re education establishment has a large alumni network to look at the resources, they have available – many universities have LinkedIn network groups, online job boards and perhaps partnerships with firms or universities in the UK. Why not sign up to a recruiting firm that specialises in your field, it is always a great place to start and to scope out the job market in your desired area!
The Hong Kong Association, Society and Business Network is another option when researching potential British companies investing and doing business in Hong Kong as well leading Hong Kong companies active in the UK. By becoming a member of the HKS it could help your search for a job in the UK, to build your business network with like-minded people and further your knowledge of the job market too. Those who have joined have gained knowledge from experts in relevant fields, experienced relevant mentoring, access to research and targeted introductions within their industry. Their ethos of ‘whatever generation you are, more needs to be done to connect proven talent with future talent’ offers great promise to those wishing to thrive once in the UK, and extend their career.
Determine cost of living budget…
Your home is important, and the right area, with the right budget, is key to your relocation. Knowing the average rents across the many London boroughs for example will help you make an informed decision. You will find here all the information you may need including an interactive map that shows the average monthly private sector rents across London! Renters in the UK also pay council tax (like a property tax), it is worth checking out how much you may pay depending on the location, and property value (students don’t pay it and single occupants do get a 25% discount).
With any relocation it is always hard to get a true idea of the cost of living in your new destination! There are many factors to consider when trying to establish how much your bills may cost, and the lifestyle you wish to establish in your new home! Whether it is the cost of sports and leisure activities, dining out in restaurants, markets and the price of food, childcare, transportation, property purchase prices, or utilities in the UK you wish to know about, all this information and more can be found Here, (numbeo is the largest ‘crowd sourced global database’ for information about cost of living)! There is also the option to compare the cost of your lifestyle in Hong Kong with London for example here too!
2 months out…
Scout out neighbourhoods…
Where do you want to live? This is a very important question, and tricky to answer. We do recommend a ‘Look and See trip’ mentioned previously, which will have helped immensely in scouting out neighbourhoods. If you were not able to do this, then we suggest you leverage the internet! Reddit forums or our London guide are great starters. The UK is made up of many cities and each have their own attractions, do some research so, you can make an informed decision when looking for a home. Things potentially to consider are: Where is your work place? How will you travel to work? What is the maximum commute time you are willing to do? What is your rent budget? Is it a family friendly area, or more for young professionals? What amenities, and communities are local to the area? We are extremely familiar with all locations in the UK, so feel free to contact us to discuss how we can help you find the right home.!
Research schools (if applicable)…
The school academic year in the UK starts in September, and parents generally apply to the local authority in which they live for places at their preferred schools. They can express a preference for at least three schools. Parents can apply for schools outside their area too, and can apply during the academic year if they are not able to arrive in the UK at the correct time. However, their allocation of a place will then be based on availability rather than their preference. This process is for the state school system, independent schools will operate differently and the process is often at the discretion of the particular institution.
The Education system in the UK can be quite complex. There is a wide variety of both state schools and independent schools (fee paying); sometimes limited availability of places, high demand for popular schools and the need to have your child residing at your new permanent UK address before state schools even consider your application. We therefore strongly encourage you to do your research about schooling in advance as it may inform where you choose to live. There are many good educational options for families moving to the UK, with most local parents opting for the local free state school. There are also great Independent Schools (fee paying) open to families relocating from around the world, alongside private International Schools, for ease of transition.
1 month out…
Moving companies & travel costs…
We recommend researching moving companies, getting quotes and deciding what you will bring with you at this stage. Moving household goods around the globe can be tricky and stressful. It can also be quite costly; it is therefore key to have a good idea of the quantity of belongings you wish to bring and how much it will cost. Next, we also recommend you research flight and travel costs so you can see availability, flexibility and your necessary budget (those who applied for a BNO visa via an application centre will have 90 days to move!)
We can help you with this! Our moving company partners are accredited to the highest industry standards and provide door-to-door services globally. So when the time is right, we can assist overseeing every aspect from packing, submitting insurance, customs documentation, shipping, delivery, storage, and finally to unpacking!
We strongly advise house hunting in person, or with at least someone on the ground on your behalf (we can do this!) as you do not want to fall prey to any scams, or sign a contract on a property that just isn’t right. Rushing to find a home when you arrive too is never ideal, and so therefore by organising some temporary accommodation for when you first land is a great option. Knowing there is a safe and comfortable place to stay for either you and, or, your family is really important; especially when making such an exciting but daunting life change! Whether it be a few weeks accommodation to a few months there are lots of temporary housing options in the UK that we can help you with. For more information why not check out our Temporary Housing page or have a chat with us!
1st week in the UK…
Secure a long-term rental…
By this stage (around 3 months since you made your Visa application) you will have hopefully received a successful response and have your BNO visa in place, current BN(O) holders therefore have a ‘right to rent’ for the period allowed in their visas. As previously said, we highly recommend home searching on the ground in person, and would advise you allocate time to tackle this in your first week as you will need a permanent address for a Bank account, registering with a GP and to make school applications. We appreciate that most Hongkongers moving to the UK will not have practical knowledge of searching properties in the UK, the renting process and compliance requirements; we can assist, advise and organise all of this for you. With our impressive knowledge of the market, relationships with all the top agents and comprehensive understanding of all compliance needed, we can really help you solve this problem, making the Home Finding process structured, timely and efficient. Let us remove the headache!
Set up Utilities…
Typically, advertised rental properties exclude utility bills with apartments in a few purpose-built blocks being the odd exception. Your utility bills will include water, electricity and gas. Often these services are already set up with the appropriate providers and can just be transferred into your name (we can help you with this!). The other costs to consider are a TV licence – this is a legal requirement if you wish to watch UK terrestrial channels on a television in your property – you can either pay annually or on a more frequent basis; and Council tax (which depends on council and size of property).
Once successfully granted your BN(O) visa, if you applied using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app you will be able to see your immigration status online, and will not need to collect a BRP. You will also be able to use the online service to share your immigration 5 status information with others, for example employers or banks.
If you applied at a visa application centre you will receive a sticker (called a ‘vignette’) that goes in your passport. This option requires you to collect a biometric residence permit (BRP) after you arrive. You must do this within 10 days of arriving in the UK, or before the vignette sticker expires, whichever is later. (You will have chosen where to collect your BRP during your application). Your BRP will include your name, date and place of birth; your fingerprints and a photo of your face (this is your biometric information); your immigration status and any conditions of your stay; whether you can access public funds, for example benefits and health services.
The BRP will confirm your identity, right to study or work in the UK and right to any public services or benefits you’re entitled to. You may have a National Insurance (NINo.) number printed on the back of your BRP. (Not all BRPs have this – it depends on factors like the date it was issued and your visa status).
Register with your local GP…
If you are settling in the UK under the BN(O) visa you will be entitled to NHS services free of charge, however only after you have paid the Immigration Health Surcharge and your visa has been granted. You are then entitled to NHS care without paying on the same basis as a permanent resident in the UK. You may still be required to pay for any additional services. You will have a legal right to choose a GP practice that best suits your needs, we therefore suggest you register with a practice local to you. To find out more about the practices available to you and to compare them at the NHS website Compare a GP, all you will need is to enter the town city or postcode you live at. The NHS covers [GP services](https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-gp) that includes physical health problems, including minor illnesses, minor injuries and the management of all ongoing more serious health problems; mental health issues and support with pregnancy etc.
Doctors of the world UK in conjunction with the Mayor of London have ensured that whatever your immigration status, you are entitled to: Free COVID-19 testing, even if test is negative, and free COVID-19 treatment. There are no immigration checks required to receive a test. This story book for children in Chinese is a great aid to help your child deal with Covid-19 and the current pandemic we are experiencing.
Organise your NINo…
In order to work in the UK, you will need a National Insurance number (NINo.). This is used to make sure your National Insurance contributions and tax are recorded against your name. It will never change and will be used by a number of organisations, including your employer and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). You cannot apply for a NINo. until you are living in the UK, so you will need to have a UK address. It does not matter if the address is temporary or if you have just arrived, as long as you have a valid UK address. They will use this address to send you your interview information and NINo., so you will need to make sure that you can receive mail at that address. We can help you through this process!
In the process of applying for a National Insurance number, HMRC will ask for some very specific information and typically questions around your name, address, contact number, date of birth, nationality, Biometric Residence Permit etc. You will also need to then have an interview at your nearest Jobcentre Plus location. The process usually takes 6-8 weeks, however in the meantime you can start work as long as you can prove you have the right to work in the UK. Please note that although you would be able to start work and receive your salary prior to receiving your NI Number, your pay would be subject to emergency tax until you have your NINo.
UK Sim card or Phone…
When you arrive in the UK, it will be really important to have a UK phone number; not only will it be a lot cheaper than using your HK phone – as your local provider will deem your usage in the UK as ‘international usage’ – but it will also allow people to contact you more easily too. It really is a must. The phone, and plan you choose is very much dependent on personal choice and need, here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Before you leave Hong Kong, it may be worth seeing if your current provider there operates in the UK, or if it is possible to use both a UK and native sim card in your current mobile phone.
- Research the popular providers in the UK, they are: O2, Vodafone, EE and Three.
- Carphone warehouse – is a good option if you would like to compare a few different provider’s phone and plan packages.
- All of these providers have good websites so you will be able to organise and purchase the right plan and/or phone for you both online or in a store too.
The other option is to have two phone numbers linked to one device – a dual sim setup. Google Voice allows you to do this. There are also some nifty accessories to do this on an iphone, and for Android there are various apps that allow you to sign up for an account, and set this up too.
Open a UK Bank account…
The UK’s most common high-street banks are: HSBC, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest. Others include Santander, Halifax, Nationwide and Tesco Bank. Setting up a traditional bank account in the UK will require you to have a permanent address and supporting documentation. Generally, the documentation you will require is: your passport, driving licence or birth certificate, tenancy agreement or a utility bill, a recent statement with the bank’s address, a visa as proof that you are permitted to live and work in the UK.
The other options we encourage are the app-based banks like Monzo and Starling. Typically for these accounts all you need is a passport or applicable visa, UK mailing address to receive your card. An e-wallet is another option where you can deposit funds on arrival to the UK and spend sterling by a card provided. These are not banks (as they do not provide credit) an example being Revolut; again, only requiring a passport or visa to open an account. We offer assistance opening a bank account!
There are lots of different banks in the UK offering lots of different services and yet opening an account in the UK can be challenging for expats. Some banks have an international expatriate division, and some will assist you in the high street branch; but you may need to make an appointment in advance. HSBC and Barclays operate in Hong Kong and are a good place to start, they may be able to set up an account in the UK for you.
Education – begin school visits…
Hopefully by this stage you have already researched and looked at the schools available to you, and even potentially what was available may have helped inform your decision on where to live. As stated previously, parents can make applications throughout the academic year and not just in September, however this will mean the allocation of a place will possibly be based on availability rather than preference (for the state system especially). We do recommend you visit the schools you have either chosen or are on offer to you; this statement applies to both state and private education. Taking the time to visit schools, talk to the teaching staff and get a feel for the ethos of an educational institution is very important when finding the best school for your child! We have a brilliant team available to support you on this, and can organise all logistics, advise and counsel you through this process; as the right education for your child is just so important for a settled, enjoyable and successful relocation.