Well, life certainly has taken over and I’ve done what I feared from the start- forsaken my blog. But, as we have now entered the final third of the school year, I think it is about time I finish this post about all things necessary to come to the UK to teach (specifically from the US), especially since I have friends who are about to embark on the same journey that I did last year. So, without further ado-
Obviously, you’ll need a valid one (they’re good for 10 years). It seems to take about 6 weeks from when you send off the application to get it back, so this probably should have been taken care of already (you’ll need to send off your passport with your work visa application). If you do not have a passport yet, I highly suggest expediting it and paying for overnight shipping to speed up the process. The US government website for passports can be found here.
There are many aspects to a work visa. For starters, you’ll need to have a job offer from a school in the UK that can sponsor you (they should know what that means- if they don’t, they likely cannot sponsor you). This is a certificate that the school applies for allowing them to “vouch” for foreign employees. Essentially, this certificate of sponsorship verifies that you do have a job and will be making a sufficient salary so as not to become a drain on the economy (your work visa will not allow you to draw from government funds). You do not need to do anything to get this certificate of sponsorship. It will be provided by the school that is employing you before you can apply for your work visa.
To begin your work visa application, you can go to this website. You will be applying for a Tier 2 Work Visa (either general or shortage occupation) and will need to know if your job is on the shortage occupation list (unofficial list found here). If it IS, your visa will be discounted. This is because the country is in need of certain job types more than others. The types of teachers found on the list are typically secondary teachers of maths and pure sciences (chemistry and physics), as well as special needs teachers for all ages.
You will want to start this application as soon as you have your certificate of sponsorship and can send off your application no EARLIER than 3 months before you intend on departing for your new home. Do not plan on leaving too far in advance of the beginning of your job, though. Your visa will only be approved to start NO EARLIER than 2 weeks before your official employment start date (found on the certificate of sponsorship).
When I was hired, it was for a one year contract (new to the school, new to the country, the school didn’t want to lock themselves into this crazy American that they had hired just in case…). This limited my options when applying for my work visa. For starters, if you are immigrating, you will only be allowed to be sponsored for a maximum of 5 years. After this, you will need to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (more on this later). Now, thinking about those five years, though, you will need sponsorship and a valid work visa for each of them. If you only have a one year contract, there are no decisions to make. You must apply for the shorter time limit visa (up to 3 years). However, if you somehow managed to get a contract longer than 3 years or a permanent position straight away, you are able to apply for the longer visa (more than 3 years). You will need to consider your plans for the future before deciding on either, though. Once you pay for a visa (and the healthcare surchage), your money is gone and you cannot get it back if you do not stay for the entire duration of your visa. If you change jobs (even within the same field), you must apply for a new work visa. Likewise with the previous situation, the money spent on the current visa will be forfeited even if the visa has not expired when you apply for the new one with your new employer. You will want to be very certain that you plan on staying for the duration if you are able to and chose to apply for the longer length visa.
Visa costs can be found here, but I’ll try to summarise:
Up to 3 years- £564 (general) or £428 (shortage occupation)
More than 3 years- £1,128 (general) or £856 (shortage occupation)
These fees are the same for dependents. You will need to complete and pay for a visa application for each person of your family coming over with you. Spouses will apply for Tier 2 Partner visas and children will apply for Tier 2 Dependent visas. While each individual must have their own application, families may send their applications for work visas together since they may need to utilise the same supporting documents (and it will save on shipping).
On top of your visa costs, there is now a new healthcare surcharge. This is a fee that has been implemented to help recover some of the NHS funds spent on immigrants. It seems that you must only complete this is you are coming from outside the EEA (European Economic Area). Certain countries have mutual agreements and are exempt (New Zealand and Australia), though they must still complete the form. Unfortunately, there is no such agreement with the United States, so applicants must pay the full fee which is £200 per person, per year, ALL DUE UP FRONT. For example, a family of four applying for a 3 year visa will have to pay their visa fees plus an additional £2,400 at the time of application (£200 per person, so £800, times the 3 years being applied for). This page gives an overview of the surcharge and also has a calculator to find what your fee will be.
As for the timing of visa application, do it as soon as possible. You do not want to find yourself in the same position we were last year- less than a week before we were flying out and frantically calling the embassy only to find out that we needed to pay even more to expedite our applications to get them in time.
Getting a Job
Now, if we back up a moment, you’ll need a job before applying for a work visa if you’re coming from outside the EU. You COULD spend hours sending off CVs to loads of different schools, but you’ll get loads of responses back saying that they cannot sponsor you (believe me, I did this). Your best bet is using a teacher recruitment agency. I used TimePlan Education. They have the resources to get your information to schools that have the license to sponsor you and save you loads of time. Another agency that I have worked with is Reed Recruitement Agency (not specific to education, but great to work with). You should NEVER have to pay a fee to a recruitement agency. Any legitimate agency legally cannot ask you for money, so if that happens, run the other way.
Speaking of money, let’s talk about some of the costs you’ll have once you arrive. You’ll want to have a hotel or bed & breakfast booked, and I suggest for quite some time (a week or two) as you try to find a place to live, whether that be a house, flat, or flatshare. Letting a property in the UK is significantly more difficult than in the States (at least compared to what I was used to). You will most likely need to go through an agency. If you’d like to search on your own, you can use sites like Prime Locations, Zoopla, or Right Move, but eventually you will need to contact the agencies responsible for letting the properties you are interested. They can help to find more properties in your area to fit your requirements if you give them that information. This can help sometimes because they may contact you about listings before they are put online.
Once you’ve found a place you like, you’ll have to pay the agency a referencing fee. This can be quite costly (up to £200 per adult over 18 desiring to live in the property) and is something you should budget for. This process is to check for poor UK credit and evictions. If you are new to the country, there will most likely be nothing to find. This can pose a probelm due to lack of credit. One thing that can help is having a letter from your employer stating your annual salary. This cost is used to determine how high of a rent you will be allowed. If you divide your annual salary by 30, this will tell you the max amount of rent you can be approved for. There are ways to get around this (six months rent in advance or showing excess money in savings), but were not an option for us. Once you find a suitable place, you’ll need a deposit, which is usually a month and a half rent to secure the property. You’ll then also need a full month to pay when you move in.
Just so you know, we tried to settle our living arrangements ahead of time, but NO agency would let us sign a contract without having viewed the property. I was happy to sign a waiver stating that I’d let the flat no matter what (we really just needed somewhere to live!), but the only compromise they would make was to let a proxy view it for us. Unfortunately, we did not know anyone in the country yet, so we had no one to ask to view it for us and send pics/their opinion. Another option is to travel over for a week or so BEFORE you come for good. You could contact agencies and set loads of viewings for the time you’re here and plan on picking one before you go back. This would be a significant added cost, though. SIDE NOTE- I’m happy to help a friend out and view a flat ahead of time if any of my friends are attempting this international move- just shoot me a message!
Before you settle into a new place, you’ll want to have any idea of your monthly bills. There are the usual- electricity, mobile, internet, gas, etc. One cost that is not familiar to Americans is Council Tax. This pays for services provided by the city (fire and rescue, police, etc.). It is based on the area you live in and the average property value. Our council allows us to pay monthly. Other options may be annually, quarterly, etc.
Settling Into the Job
For teachers, there are some applications to complete before you are recognised as a fully qualified teacher in the UK. You will need to submit all the necessary paperwork to apply for QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). If you chose to complete this online, you will need digital files of all the following:
- University transcripts showing completed degree
- Teaching License (screen shot of valid registration is sufficient)
- Evidence of name change (if you have a different name on any of the documents)
- Letter from recognised authority verifying that you have sucessfully passed all qualifications and are a fully qualified teacher in the USA, that you have professional experience comparable to an induction period, and that you have no restrictions on your teaching license (I was able to contact the Illinois State Board of Education to get an email verifying all this)
Completing this application will result in QTS, which allows you to be recognised as a fully qualified teacher in the UK. For me, it also verified that I had enough prior in-classroom experience to bypass the Induction Year required for UK trained teachers. This also meant that I should have started on a higher pay scale due to that experience (an issue being resolved this year when I renew my contract). Once approved, you will also be issued a DfE number (Department for Education) which will serve as a Teacher Reference Number within the system. This will be needed for paperwork at the school to get payroll processed.
Once you have arrived, you will also need to apply for a National Insurance (NI) number. This is used by the school for payroll also (plus it gets you started in NHS). You will need to call 0345 600 0643 between the hours of 8am – 6pm Monday through Friday to begin the application process.
Now, after all that, you just need to adjust to life in a new country, settle into your faculty and school, and enjoy! Please remember that I am no expert, having had to find my way through the process on my own. I am happy to correct any inaccuracies that may be found and also to answer any questions you may have. Please feel free to comment away!