uk u krazy

2018-12-09

We relocated from NL to the UK about a year ago. This was a big leap into the big unknown, to say the least. Here are some takeaways from that experience. Some of it will appeal more to people from NL, other things will be pretty generic. Hope it helps you in some way. Feel free to reach out if you need help in this area. I'm by no means an expert but I can at least share our experience.

For reference, we moved to the UK with two toddlers. We have a European passport and my wife does not have a job here.

Clueless government


The first thing you should be aware of is that there's little help from the (Dutch) government. Do not expect a nice "I'm moving abroad what do I need" todo-list. And government employees in related areas don't seem to be very helpful in this either. You will only be disappointed. You are on your own, left to random pages like, well, this one :)

Our situation was even more off than usual, where I technically started working in June but only moved to the UK in November. Considering the UK is an island, this raised more a few eyebrows for any government contact trying to figure out how stuff works. Let alone trying to explain the story over and over again.

Addressing


Be veeeerry careful with submitting your UK first address to the Dutch gov. We had temporary living arrangements the first month in something that's very close to a hotel and this address stuck around in various parts of the Dutch gov for a long time. The Dutch government will happily change your registered address to the first abroad address you give it after moving out, or sooner if you have it before the move. However it will give you some trouble for having to change it again if you must.

This was a problem for us because very important tax office and other governmental mail was unexpectedly and unknowingly being sent to this not-actually-a-hotel, even though we moved on. Luckily for us it was collected by and kept by them so I've picked up about 5 letters until the address was properly changed. Could have easily missed those letters, or that fact at all, and probably have gotten some hefty fines over it.

It's actually stupid because it depends on who you ask it. One government officials will say that's not done. The next will point you to the online system. I actually called the Dutch embassy in London to ask about this only to get "no you have to contact each instance yourself" response. Wow?

Then it turns out that you can do it at any time but only at the "online desk" of about seven arbitrary cities, regardless of whether you've ever lived there, because they deal with Dutch people not living in the Netherlands. There are still some differences between these cities but Den Haag at least worked for us. Changed within a week (this doesn't cost money).

So if you know you'll have a temporary address try to postpone updating the Dutch gov until such time. Of course don't wait too long. You can change it on DigID in any of the designated cities to deal with NL people who don't live in NL anymore. Check the conditions and pick the city that seems the best in this. Den Haag worked for us.

Don't let DigID expire


Just login to your digid every 6 months and you'll be fine. I think it expires if you don't login for a year (make sure to double check this duration, don't take my word for it).

I've set a 6 month reminder in my calendar to make sure it doesn't expire. I've heard it's a real pain to request it if you don't live in NL (IIRC they'll only send the login details to a Dutch address... ummm ok).

If you don't have DigID yet make sure to have requested one for you and anyone moving with you before you move. Again, it'll be easier to do it while living in NL than after moving out.

Background checks


Almost any UK company that you'd have to pay money on a monthly basis wanted to do a background check of some sort on me.

While it made sense for my job and, to some extend, even renting a house, I don't think it was necessary for a mobile plan that costs 9 pounds per month. I've had a check for a bank account (even though a Monza account that I got later gave me no such trouble at all), internet/tv plan, renting a house, getting a National Insurance Number (uk gov id), .... I've had like seven of these checks in various sizes.

Virgin was the biggest nuisance in this. So there's Virgin Media, which is your regular phone/tv/internet provider, and there's Virgin Mobile, your regular mobile provider. You would think this is "just Virgin", but it certainly isn't. While my account at VM was setup by some third party with no direct intervention on my side (these plans are about 30 to 50 pounds monthly), this could not be done for a mobile plan. The mobile plan I wanted for us was a sim-only 9 pounds a month. And they refused to give me one on the basis that I did not pass the background check. This background check would fail by default if you don't live in the country for more than 6 months. I raised hell on the phone, escalated it to managers twice, but eventually gave up. Their callcenter service is so terrible. I've spoken to about 10 different people in trying to get it done and in two cases the language barrier and/or cognitive capabilities of understanding me were so low I ended up hanging up in frustration.

Anyways, I ended up with a cheaper company that did not care about background checks. The Virgin experience still leaves me salty today. Oh and a few months ago I got a call from their callcenter that I was now qualified for "their great mobile plan". I hung up and cursed at them. In that order. Grrrr.

Moving


Most of the actual move was taken care of by an agency so I can't really help you with that. They came, they packed in half a day, moved it on a truck, moved it on a boat, and when we had our final place they came in and unpacked.

We did have to valuate our household for insurance reasons. Quite the pain and it turns out that our household is quite worthless (thieves beware).

The actual move itself is a little anti-climactic as the UK government pretty much doesn't give a shit. (I think this will be the same for any country) Fair warning; this may change in a post-brexit world and if you're moving here from outside of the UK/EU. To be continued below.

You don't get this "person-that-is-permanently-moving'-stamp and so nobody really cares more about you than any other passenger. If you want to feel special about it I suggest you move together with somebody else :)

UK Registration


In the Netherlands you explicitly register with the municipal of your residence. In the UK there's no such registration but rather a set of implicit registration "events" (it's not an actual event, just a nuisance). All of which you could avoid/dodge if you wanted to while still living there.

The four registrations that spring to mind are; "National Insurance Number" (NiN), local doctor ("GP"), council tax, and voters registration.

National Insurance Number


You don't need to apply or an NiN but that means you'll be paying the max possible tax on your income. And any registration process will be more involved and weird when you don't have a NiN (yet).

To apply and receive this number you have to request an appointment, which takes 4 to 6 weeks to arrive. During which you should stay in the UK. In practice I think you just need to be able to pick up the invitation by mail somewhere but I wasn't able to request my NiN until six months after I started to work in the UK.

If you don't have an NiN when paying your taxes you will be taxes to the worst possible case (eg. the case where you'd have to pay most). Other than that the NiN is not mandatory.

The process involves requesting an appointment by phone, going to a very dull office where nobody gives a crap, have a simple (face2face) conversation with a government employee, and receiving your number by mail a few weeks afterwards. I don't remember if there were any costs involved.

Local doctor


As far as I remember the main way people are registered is by being registered with their GP. It's possible they just send that data in aggregate to some government office or something, I don't know.

Registering with the GP probably comes with some kind of in-take where they do a physical etc. But for what it's worth I still haven't actually seen a doctor in this country so there's that.

As an aside, doctors (and dentists, for that matter) in London tend to have their office in regular houses, refurbished to serve as an office. This gives it a weird vibe, as in Holland I'm used to a more clinical environment for medical stuff.

As far as being registered in the UK, this one feels the most official and generic. At the same time you only do this when working here so it definitely doesn't cover everybody.

More on doctors later.

Council tax


Once you rent a home (or, I suppose, own one) here you'll have to pay council tax. This is a ridiculously complex system where you may be paying a completely different amount from your neighbors because, I don't know, you have red bricks instead of orange bricks. Or whatever. I can't explain you how much you'd have to pay, just consider it somewhere between 1.000 and 2.000 pounds yearly.

I'm going to guess this registration process also connects you with living in the UK officially. I don't know if this is actually the case.

Voting registration


There's two different voting registration cases and the distinction is important here.

One is to register when you want to vote, or at least be eligible to vote. This process is voluntary (or well, you have to do it if you want to vote of course but nobody is forcing you to). Besides being able to vote this is apparently also an important factor in these background checks. So even if you don't vote, if your background check might be relevant in the future, you should just do this.

The other thing is a more generic registration requirement for each household. You'll receive a letter from the UK government (yearly?) which requires you to enter all the people in your household that are eligible to vote. This process is mandatory and comes with a lot of threatening legalese. I mean, you could probably still dodge this one if you wanted to but it'll be difficult to live somewhere while still flying under this radar. Perhaps living in a hotel or something, I dunno.

I would expect the government to use this information to paint a picture on who's living in the UK. While this obviously means our children could easily fly under the radar, it's moderately troublesome for adults to do so. Especially if you work here. I mean, in that case you're paying taxes so there's already eyes on you anyways.

Kids


When migrating from NL to UK there is zero government control over kids. That's pretty bad, actually. If we hadn't registered our kids, including a 3 month old baby at the time, the UK government probably still wouldn't know about them. And if you think the Dutch government is still keeping tabs you're going to be disappointed.

This seems like a pretty weak spot in general :/

On this note; travelling with young kids between UK and NL is generally not a problem. Not even when my wife travels with them alone, although she was asked for some kind of proof that I was okay with this. Apparently that entails my signature and a copy of my passport, so that's absolute hogwash. I do feel this kind of scrutiny is worse at airports than it is at the Eurostar border. Perhaps it's just coincidence. And the kids have our last name so there's little to confuse about there.

Healthcare


The UK has a healthcare system called "NHS" (can you guess w... oh ok). This system pretty much covers most cases and many of the procedures. It is possible to get private insurance. Our experience is that this doesn't really mean much. It gives you some privileges and a somewhat expedited response with the doctor, and especially dentist, offices. But all things considered private insurance is more of a insurance for the care providers that the procedures will be paid for.

Private dentist insurance is a crock, don't fall for the trap. They'll cover more than NHS (I don't know if NHS covers any dental at all...) but you'll still pay a lot of money for anything being done because it's probably only covered partially or to some limit.

The private insurance still works reactive; you pay up front and you'll be reimbursed whatever they cover. So if you have a four figure dentist procedure you might still have to dish it out first (perhaps very high amounts can be arranged to be paid directly, dunno). In contrast, Dutch health insurance will cover the costs and _they_ will bill you for any excess.

Doctor costs seem to be covered immediately, dunno whether that's by private insurance or NHS. I don't know about hospital bills since we haven't had to go there yet. Luckily.

Doctor and dentist appointments can take a while. In particular non-emergency dentist appointments may have to be made months ahead of time. Get queued, son.

Oh and when the British say "going to the surgery", they mean the (regular) doctor, which they call "GP" (general practitioner). I don't know what they say when they actually go to get surgery, though.

In general NHS was considered pretty good but budget cuts in the past few years have slimmed it down and I think people are definitely not as happy with it as they used to.

I don't know what private insurance actually costs. The only advantage I've seen from it so far is a slightly better treatment while trying to arrange dentist appointments. Then again we're not a very sickly family so perhaps NHS is all we'd need.

Also good to know is that in the Netherlands the Dutch insurance companies will issue you an insurance pass which you can show at hospitals or whatever as (tentative...) proof of being insured. The UK does not do this, not even the private insurances. They just give you a number which they send in letter and that's it. There's also no European pass ("101 pass"?) being issued, apparently. So in the UK you just walk in and that's that?

Housing


We're not millionaires so obviously we were looking to rent something in London. Coming from a relatively small city in Holland, even small by Dutch standards, and from a house that we owned, we had little clue of where to even begin or what was reasonable.

Luckily we had help with our relocation provided by my employer. This was great because she would know everything about London and we knew nothing. She also knew how to go about renting a house, what to look for in a property, and where to look for listings. We just had rightmove.co.uk (comparable to the Dutch funda.nl) and could only look at places remotely from Holland.

Another thing that was frustrating was that it was kind of useless to search for properties on the websites until a week prior to actually visiting properties. The reason is that all the interesting places will be gone within a week or so. Anything older than a week was stale. So we had a good idea of the kinds of properties that we might see but it was a literal roll of the die as to what the properties would be that week, that day.

Ultimately we had arranged for two viewing days. The first day we visited 10 properties in Finchley and one in Ealing. We were actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the properties that we had seen and picked one by noon (even if we had some properties left to see). We felt a bit pressured by the whole thing and if you're happy with a property then why not.

The only tip I can give you on this is MAKE PICTURES. LOTS OF PICTURES. By the time we left the fourth property we couldn't even tell whether the previous property was the one with the nice kitchen or the one with the crappy door. Just snap as many pictures from all the places so that you can go over them at peace later. You'll regret it if you won't. And the people showing you the house won't care. The exception is when people are still living there, take a little more care in that case. But make sure you have one or two pictures to jog your mind. You won't remember anything from that day and it'll be in-and-out of every property. Make pictures! Use that phone.

Once you pick a property the next roller coaster starts. You have to get the property taken off the market. Basically you do this by paying a deposit. It helps to have a credit card handy with a max of at least one month of rent. You don't lose this money unless you bail on renting the place and it serves for them as a way to ensure they're not losing out on potential rent because they're dealing with you. As far as I'm concerned this is actually fair. Part of this deposit is meant as compensation to the property agent to do your background check, I don't think this is fair. But hey, you don't have a choice here. The deposit is somewhere in the range of 6 weeks rent and whatever the agent charges for the background check. This can vary wildly, though, as we discovered.

The day after our house hunt we changed our minds. We knew this was going to be costly yet we also realised that we overlooked one or two key problems with the property (no back entrance, very narrow main-and-only entrance). We decided to switch to another property which was very similar in many ways. Obviously the balance initially tipped slightly in favor of our first choice and obviously it was ultimately actually the other way around. Anyways, it meant that we lost the six weeks rent deposit (but got back the money owed for the background check). This is actually probably the only reason we knew about this in the first place. When this happens, try to consider it's "just a months rent" and you'll be paying many more of those months... :/

The deposit will be part of a larger deposit that serves as a reserve from which repairs and such are paid when you leave the property and this is deemed necessary. If no repairs are required you'll get this money back in full. Or that's the idea anyways, we'll see how that goes :) I've heard some people have trouble with this so I'm sure this depends highly on the kind of landlord.

Bank


New country new bank. It's almost stupid but you really want a bank from the country you live in. It's equally stupid how difficult it actually is to arrange that when you're new to that country, at least in the UK. In retrospect I guess this may be the same in any country. On the other hand when I applied to Monzo later there was almost zero trouble of this kind. So it's not like a necessity.

I had three weeks to setup an account before I'd be out of the country for four months. I went with HSBC because they'd have a fast track and, well, I needed it done fast.

Took me a while to get there (they required a reference and the process to get them one fumbled a bit, I don't really know which party to blame here). Once there you get a shitload of paper work and are required to enter no less than five passwords. On the spot. With different requirements. (I'm counting "secret questions" as passwords as well.) Wow, what the hell.

This is where I learned that the UK loooves to do that "enter the first fifth and tenth character of your password" crap. In hindsight I kind of get it. In certain circumstances, like calling the helpdesk, it prevents the helpdesk representative from having your full password. While you regularly wouldn't need to worry about that particular service, it makes it impossible for them to try your email+password combination elsewhere.

You've got some trust issues, UK. Where I don't get it is online banking, where I'm required to enter 3 passwords (the nth character bullshit, a security question, AND a 2fa device that requires its own password). Oh it's so a false sense of security since the same argument doesn't apply here. Dutch banks do it with one authentication mechanism (albeit all different) and seem to fare fine. Ugh.

And then there's the bank card thing. I think we're back to trust issues. In Holland it's no problem to get a second bank card. This may make sense for a variety of reasons. Over here I just wanted a second card so my wife and I could both access the account. But nope, this requires adding her as a beneficiary and jump through a lot of inconvenient hoops. Turns out UK banks simply don't do the second card thing at all.

Banks here are definitely still a little backwards and yet to enter the internet age. That said there are new banks coming up like Monza which are a great experience and will shatter this experience of old. It'll be interesting to see whether this will prod old banks to get their shit together.

Oh one last "orly" anecdote for hsbc; when we went there to change to a joint account, I had to bring proof of address. The bank is already sending me statements (which, btw, would not be allowed as proof) to this address and the only reason this was triggered at all was because I wanted to change it. But I had to bring that proof, regardless. And so did she.

Proof of address


That's actually a good point to highlight; get proof of address. There are a few places that will require you to show this. Banks are one of them. Valid proofs of address are bank statements, utility bills, and council tax bills. Since these often have to be in your name as well, like with banks, the council tax is extra crucial since it's the only thing that tends to have both your names. Almost everything here is registered by my name and so that was the only type of proof of address with her name on it.

We fixed this by now but proof of address is definitely not something you would think about when setting stuff up.

Child care


Another major difference is child care. In Holland there's a government backed consultation agency ("consultatiebureau") that checks the well-being of your kids every so often. Baby's go there once every few weeks while older children go there once every few months or years. Kids also get their vaccine shots there and I think it also serves as a tentative checks on the general well being of children, child negligence, abuse, etc. These checks are not optional and skipping them will inevitably lead to a nice visit from child services. The agency has a bit of a bad rap, though, with its advice often feeling a bit flakey and guessing. They can be a great source of support when something is wrong while at the same time taking their advice with a grain of salt and rather opinionated. You're mileage will vary (yeah, this isn't a "might" situation). Overall I still think it's a good thing to exist.

In the UK this child checkup and vaccine stuff is done by a visit to the GP. I'm not sure how mandatory those checks are and whether they service the same underlying purpose as the consultation agency does. On the other hand it's nice to have (I hope) a licensed doctor check your kids so for us it's fine.

Mail


Mail is slow here. Don't know what's up with that.

At first I thought it was HSBC. I forgot my pin code and the first letter to contain it never arrived and the second one took a week and a half. This was to central London so not even some remote area.

As we settled in our real home we notice this trend for more stuff. Letters and parcels tend to take a few days. I guess we're just spoiled by next day delivery for almost everything. Perhaps that's in part due to Holland just being a smaller country. I don't know.

Even stuff from Amazon tends to take loooong. Forget next day delivery, even "expedited delivery" for a baby fence took a a few days longer than advertised. You get used to it once you know, I guess.

Remote grocery shopping


Apparently doing your groceries online and having them delivered to your doorstep is a de facto standard in the UK for 25 years. I wonder how they did that online 20 years ago but let's not linger on the details. Point is, everybody does it and it's about a pound extra to have it delivered. you just do it and that's that. For us it's actually very helpful since we don't have a car so my wife doesn't have to do the weekly groceries while pushing a double stroller.

We were a little surprised when we were told this. In Holland it's possible to have groceries delivered but I think it's still considered a premium than a standard by most people. I don't even know what the surcharge is on that over there.

Taxes


I only know a few things about UK taxes.

It's important to know that the tax years runs from April 4th to April 3rd (weird).

Filing your yearly taxes can be done by paper (has to be sent before October) or online (has to be done before January). The online system has some limitations in what it can do, though, so for certain cases you're still bound to filing your taxes in paper. The paper method has a shorter deadline. The online system has the added convenience of being sent immediately and prefilling your information.

Alledgedly the first year in the UK your incomg abroad is not taxed. If you want to depend on this make sure not to take my word for it.

Fence


A bit random, but in the back garden, the left fence is yours and the right fence is your neighbours responsibility.

London public transportation


The London tube (underground) the trains run at a very high frequency but when planning where to live do keep forks into account. We live in Finchley and the Northern Line branches in two occasions between where we live and where I go to work. This means that if we want to go to a particular station on the Northern Line, we might still have to wait 5 to 10 minutes to get the right one. Back is even worse. It adds up.

In the morning I get a tube at 7:30. The next one I can take will is 15 minute later. But two other tubes will pass before. However, if I can still take the first of those two I will go to the next station to take the first train there coming off the other branch of the fork at that station. Saves me a few minutes (and that train is almost empty since that fork only has one more station). So plan accordingly and take forks into account.

The Oyster card is a prepaid and refillable travel card (it's iconically blue). Alternatively you can just pay contactless with your bank card (at no extra cost). The amount paid per card is capped per day so after hitting the cap you'll travel for free for the rest of the day. The amount deducted from your bank is calculated at the end (it will "hold" some money until end of day). This system works quite well.

I live in zone 4 and it costs me 3.80 pounds for a single fare at rush hour, and I think it's about 2.80 pounds off-peak. There's no such thing as a "return ticket", although I think there are day fares or something. You generally don't want those, just get the 2.80 single unless you plan to hop on-and-off the tube a lot.

Note that it is cheaper to buy a yearly pass since you'll get a two month discount. This won't mean much if you purely use public transportation for work on weekdays and never in the weekend because holidays and other off days counter the two months, but otherwise the monthly/yearly pass also means you can just use it in the weekends. You can order this online by supplying the code of an existing oyster card that you have and it will be activated for your card the next time you use it. (Of course you can also have a new card sent to you)

One additional advantage of the annual pass is that you can also get 30% discount for people travelling with you off-peak. But you have to get this added to the oyster card of who travels with you (a permanent setting) and that's a bit involved for incidental travel. Ideal for your spouse, though and hey 30% is 30%. Expect tube employees to be clueless about this and make sure to bring the letter you'll receive explaining this.

We actually went today to update the card and the guy said he'd never seen the annual passes in his life and now it's the second time in two days. Okay? But he was helpful all the same.

In London, the bus only has one fare (1.50 pounds?) which you pay when you check in. You don't check out. If you transfer to the tube I think you'll pay a somewhat cheaper fare for the tube. We found the "one bus fare for everything" a bit confusing but it seems that's just how it works :)

London has a bunch of zones, I think up to zone 6. Your fare depends on your target zone you travel to.

Make sure to explore the station you visit frequently. It pays off to find alternative routes. Some stations are an actual hell to get through. Others are super fast.

Accessible public transportation in London


The tube is NOT accessible. I repeat. The tube is NOT accessible. Don't be fooled by pots claiming otherwise. If you are in a wheelchair or, as we obviously experience ourselves, stuck with young children, you only really have a handful of stations in London center that you can use. And the distance between these is enormous.

Yes, the outer stations are accessible. Those are also the new ones. But the London tube system is oooold. And they are designed like crap. So most stations are not accessible and only so because there's like one place that has some flights of stairs. It's actually stupid how most of those cases could be replaced with a ramp, or at least be updated with some system that makes them friendlier for wheelchairs and push chairs.

For pushchairs you can use the escalators most of the time. But beware that most stations have at least some flights of stairs anyways. Most of the time there's somebody who'll lend a hand. Not always.

We were lucky to find an accessible station in Finchley and the Northern Line that passes some major accessible stations towards the center of London. But even so it's still crap to get anywhere at all.

And busses are okay but have limited space. They will not take more than two pushchairs so when that space is taken, the bus will move on without you. There's nothing you can do about this and it has happened to us a few times. Highly frustrating. You've been warned.

London


Now I've been complaining quite a bit. These are mainly the frustrations of things we ran into the past year. Don't get me wrong. Living here is fine. After the initial shock of everything it's just another place to live. They just speak a little different, have different things in the shop, and traffic is suicidal. On the other hand the people are friendly and life just goes on. Most of the stuff above applies to the move, not to the living here. The healthcare stuff only comes up every so often, hopefully less than that. And taxes, well, taxes are probably fine when you're not a weird case :)

Hope this helps you if you're in the same spot.



For seo purposes; Relocating to London, migration to London, migreren of emigreren naar UK Londen, verhuizen van Nederland naar Londen in Groot-Brittanniƫ of Engeland of het Verenigd Koninkrijk (what's in a name).