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Coming to the UK?

Skilled workers and genuine students are very welcome in the UK.  ElementE Ltd is often asked for help.  We can not help every individual personally as that is not our business but here are some links and ideas to get you started.  Be warned: some of them are very basic but it is surprising how often people forget!


Who are you?

This sounds easy – but stop and think about how your name appears in a computer when the reader does not know your language.  Is Michael Gheorge, “Mr Gheorghe Michael” or “Mr Gheorge Michael”?  That is, is his family name Michael as in the first example?  The British put their family names second.  Also, they (usually) only use one family name. If you are one of the very aristocratic families that have six family names on your official papers, do not be surprised if UK administrators require you to choose one and only one.  They will not be persuaded to change.  Also, do not assume that people know whether you are male or female.  The writer once spent ten minutes waiting in a meeting room for the “important visitor” – who was eventually found to be herself but the room was waiting for a man!

Email addresses nearly always have the given name first and the family name second e.g.

Women from Spanish-speaking cultures need to be very careful: there is no equivalent to ‘de’ in the two family names.  Make life easy for yourself and use either your husband’s family name or your own family name, not both. If you are an academic, be careful: you need to keep the same name for everything you do including writing papers.  You never need your mother’s maiden (unmarried) family name for normal letters and emails. Doña Gillian Isabela Jones de Palmer Smith is just plain Mrs Gillian Isabela Palmer – and even that is one, middle, name too far for most circumstances.

Asian cultures: yes, it does matter which order your name is in.  If you have chosen a daily name that is not on your main birth documents, talk to the British Embassy or British Council about how to fill in forms because British systems expect one set of names on all papers and always in the same order.  If you write academic papers, this system helps you be recognised by your colleagues. 

  • If you are just starting out in your academic career: choose now and stick with whatever you choose!  Remember: you may have this name 60 years from now.

British Embassies and British Council

British Embassies really are open to honest enquiries but they are busy.

  • ElementE knows that the queues can be long.  Try email to your local British Embassy if it is available.

  • Give accurate information and tell them what you are expecting to do.  If a college does not exist and you ask to attend it, they will tell you and you will not get a student visa until you find a college that exists.

  • British Embassies will not tell you if a course that is legal in the UK is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  It is your responsibility to find out.

  • Never lie. It will cost you more in the long run because you will be found out. Employers are required by law to report people and the employers need properly qualified people or they would not advertise.   Employers do not want to be blacklisted nor put in jail so they will report bad sources.

British Council offices are a very useful source of information for in-your-country English language lessons.  Make sure you ask for UK-English.  At higher professional levels, the professionals will make allowances and mostly understand each other if they want to do so.  If you are just starting your career, people may not be able to ‘translate’ so easily.


English language ability

People often say that the British do not know foreign languages.  That is not true.  They are shy about speaking.

  • Skilled workers’You are likely to meet people who do speak your language.  However, the working language is likely to be English and, if you are employed here full-time, it is your responsibility to make yourself understood.  See below. 

  • Students on courses, see here.

If you have finished a degree (Licence in the LMD system) and want to work in the UK, check the following:

  • Do you use UK spelling and UK grammar checkers in your wordprocessing programme? 

  • Have you set your paper sizes to UK (A4) size?

  • Do you watch – and understand – UK television programmes such as the BBC news

  • Do you listen to the BBC WorldService radio?  You can listen to any subject you like but the listening helps both your vocabulary and your accent.

  • Do you know the accepted style for a cv and a covering letter?  (One South African executive submitted his houseplans to prove his origins.  That is not needed!)

  • Can you tell the difference between the language used in pop songs and the language needed for business?  (If not, try an English-for-business course before you arrive.)


Make sure you bring enough money with you or can send it ahead to a branch of your own bank.  Many banks will not immediately give you the same types of debit and credit cards as you had at home and this can cause problems.  It is always better to set up the account in advance if you can or make sure someone at home can send you some money by a transfer service if you get into difficulties.  You usually need one month’s rent in advance plus the money for the first month for an apartment (so, two months) plus food, electricity, water, tv licence, telephone, transport.  Most employers pay every month and they nearly always pay money straight into bank accounts.  Buses, taxis and trains may all cost a lot more than you are used to.  See Transport for London to get some idea.



You may need a medical check in your own country in order to gain a visa/work permit.  This, in effect, is just to see if you can be allowed into the UK. 


Read the forms!

Your employer may also require a medical and this is quite separate.  Employment checks must be carried out be a suitably qualified, registered, health professional.  They are also subject to strict rules of confidentiality so read the forms and be sure you know what you are being asked to do.


The employer can ask the doctor to carry out specific tests as long as the tests are totally relevant to the job you wish to do.  The doctor then tells the employer if the applicant (you) has passed or not.  That information is not discussed in detail with your future colleagues.   

  • For example, someone working in IT may be asked to do a colour-blindness test.  You pass or not.  The Personnel department  (recruiting manager), sees the yes/no result that says there is a problem and they decide if it is important and what to do about it.  Your future work team should not be told of the result unless you agree to that.  Of course, in this example, you may choose to agree because colour-blindness may not stop you doing your job but it may be helpful if your colleagues know that you do not see colours as easily as they do.

  • Another example is a senior manager who may be asked to have a major ‘wellness’ medical because part of the remuneration package is a private health insurance.  If there is a problem, you may get the job but not the insurance.  You may get the job and the insurance and some help.  Either way, your colleagues should not know unless you tell them or give permission.

Employment health checks

If your future employer asks you to have medical checks:

  • Do not pay for them.  The employer will pay.

  • Never, ever allow yourself to be photographed during a medical (X-rays are different)

  • If you do not think the tests are relevant to the job – walk away.

  • Remember, you are allowed to have a friend go in with you – only one, please, as doctor’s surgeries are usually tiny!

Once you are employed, you may be required to have extra checks but these will be explained as part of your contract.

Skilled workers

Welcoming term?  Frightening term?  If you have a Doctorate in Astro-Physics from a world-class university, you will not be reading this.  If you are wondering what a ‘skilled worker’ is, click for the official UK link and/or read on.

  1. Bachelors/Licence new graduates are unlikely to count.  Sorry!  We really like you but that’s the fact.  British students get the same treatment.

  2. If you have professional qualifications but no degree, and you have excellent work experience: talk to the British Embassy.

If you have qualifications but are not ‘skilled’ you have some intelligent options:

  • Do some ‘unskilled’ but essential work to improve your English and get to know the culture and options better.  This is hard but can be very useful.  It can also be a pleasant rest from academic study, doing something different and finding out what types of industry you do/do not like. 

  • Become a student in the UK and enter on a student visa.  Most student visas allow you to do part-time work.  Your family may not be allowed to live here and, if they are, they may not be allowed to work.  Check this before you apply for the university/college place because you cannot change the system and you need to plan paying for your new  studies realistically.  Look for scholarships before you leave your own country and remember that your preferred university/college may offer scholarships.  Competition for scholarships at Oxford/Cambridge/London is always strong so do think about whether you need to go to one of those or whether somewhere else may be better for you. Read the UK Border Agency website information on working in the UK  before applying.

Employment agencies

In the UK, good employment agencies and job centres do not charge you money.  They get their pay from their clients, the employers.  You may need to pay for passport-style photos but that is all.


Employment guide

Basic questions about UK employment law are answered on the Citizens Advice Bureau website.


Office hierarchies and protocol

Wherever you come from, a real beginner has respect for higher authority but British culture is not as strictly formal as some.  You can usually use the person’s first name as soon as you have been introduced.  (That does not mean you are friends!)  If you are introduced to someone and you have that uncomfortable feeling that you really should call them something more important than their first name, use “Sir” or “Ma’am” as appropriate. (Ma’am is an abbreviated form of Madam.)  Very important people know that others get confused and will help – it is part of their politeness/etiquette.  If you get no change to “Sir/Ma’am” – just keep using it until someone in their team or helpers tells you to what the correct form is.


Universities and Colleges

Professor has a very different meaning in the UK from that in many countries.  Think 20 years of academic research.  It is not always that long a period of research - but it does give you the idea.  A ‘university lecturer’ will usually say, “I’m Dr. Smith” or even “I’m Chris.”


Foreign or Overseas Offices in universities

The names vary but they exist in most universities and colleges.  Make contact with yours as soon as you can because they are experts at helping people settle in.  They are not usually lawyers but they will have seen most problems with banks, accommodation and landlords and will have ideas about how you can solve your problem yourself.


Safety first

Of course, the vast majority of people who come to the UK have a great time once they have settled in and they are as safe as any UK citizen.  However, in the unlikely event that you feel threatened or feel you are being asked to do something that is wrong, do go to the Police and ask for help.  Never offer a police officer 'commission' as you might end up in jail.  The British may like to make jokes about the Police but, on the whole, they are respected.