©2008 ElementE Ltd
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. Christina.Robertson@company.co.uk
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.
British Embassies and British Council
British Embassies really are open to honest enquiries but they are busy.
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.
If you have finished a degree (Licence in the LMD system) and want to work in the UK, check the following:
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.
Employment health checks
If your future employer asks you to have medical checks:
Once you are employed, you may be required to have extra checks but these will be explained as part of your contract.
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.
If you have qualifications but are not ‘skilled’ you have some intelligent options:
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.
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.