Working in the UK

People and country

From the middle of the nineties the British economy and its labour markets have shown very positive developments compared to many other European countries. The unemployment rate is at about 5%. Especially good conditions can be found in the service industry, the health sector, in banks and insurance as well as information technology and telecommunications. German native speakers find good opportunities in call centres. A thorough knowledge of English, however, is required in all industry sectors.

It is common practice in the UK that you go out for a drink with your colleagues after work. You don't just pay for your own drink, instead everybody pays for a whole round of drinks. Social life and teamwork are very important in the UK. As well as good manners - incl. that foreigners should not make jokes about the Brits. They certainly do have a good sense of humour, but they like to pull their leg themselves. Colleagues and bosses are on first name terms and the social interaction is polite but informal.

The cost of living is higher in the UK than in many other European countries, this applies in particular to London.

EU citizens

Citizens of EU member states are entitled to practise any professional occupation in the UK without being discriminated in comparison to UK residents. A visa, a residence and/or a work permit are not required (exception: Channel Islands and Isle of Man). Unlike Germany there is no obligation to register with the police.

Persons staying longer than 6 months in the UK may apply for a residence permit in order to have some proof of residence. However, this is not compulsory.

Non-EU citizens


Persons entering the UK in order to live or work there need an entry visa if they are non-EU citizens. Furthermore, a work permit and a residence permit are required. Citizens of some countries (USA, Commonwealth) do not have to have an entry visa but must have a work and residence permit.

Residence permit

Persons from outside the EU staying longer than 6 months need a residence permit. If such a person is able to self-finance his residence, i.e. no state funds like state benefits are required, the person is entitled to a residence permit for 6 months. This also includes registering with the local police for people from certain countries.

Visitors are not entitled to take up any employment in the UK.

If a job seeker obtains a work permit he also receives a limited residence permit. The expiry of the residence permit follows that of the work permit. The permit has a maximum term of 4 years. After this period, a permanent residence permit is usually issued (permanent settlement). A precondition is permanent residence during the 4 years (min. 9 months per year).

Work permit

The employer has to apply for a work permit for non-EU citizens. The work permit is only valid in relation to a  particular work place. If the employment contract changes in some way, the work permit expires automatically. Work permits are issued by the Overseas Labour Service (OLS), a subsection of the Department for Education and Skills. Even though representatives of the industry consider the OLS as economy friendly, it is legally bound by political protectionism. If there is one EU citizen who may fill the vacancy offered to a non-EU citizen the OLS will not issue a work permit. Originally, the object of this regulation was to avoid cheap labour entering Europe. Today, however, these laws hinder the access of qualified personnel to the European labour markets. Nevertheless, as the UK, like many other EU countries, also suffers from a significant shortage of IT staff, work permits are issued regularly. Still, it might take up to six months from the date of application to be issued with a work permit.

All work permits expire after a maximum period of 4 years. After this period you obtain a permanent residence permit which makes the work permit redundant.

Labour law in the UK

Social insurance

All occupational work in the UK is subject to social insurance, and you have to register with the local Department of Social Security where you receive your National Insurance Number. This number has to be given to the employer who has to take care of all further formalities. Persons earning less than £75 per week are exempt from social insurance fees. All other employees have to pay 10% of their salary if this does not exceed £585.

Also self employed and freelancers have to contribute to the social insurance in the UK.

Health Insurance

The UK has a state health system (NHS). Most medical treatment is free of charge for UK residents and even tourists. You have to register as a patient with the local health centre and a general practitioner. It is very important to make it clear to the doctor that you are insured by the NHS and not privately as many doctors also offer private services. Medication, dental prostheses and glasses are charged for. The British Department of Health provides up to date information about the amount of such fees (see links).


In the UK, all employees pay taxes. However, agreements exist with most European countries for the avoidance of double taxation. Your income is taxed according to three standard tax rates: 10%, 22% and 40%. These depend on the amount you earn (minus tax free amounts)

Searching for jobs in the UK


The state employment service (Jobcentre Plus) has Jobcentres in all big cities which will help you look for a job. In addition, many private employment agencies and personnel consultants offer job search and HR services.

Another quite common way of finding a job in the UK is sifting through newspapers and online job boards. The nationwide dailies The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Financial Times publish many job listings, in particular for specialist and executive jobs. Also the weekly, The Economist, is a good source for manager opportunities.


Thick application folders are not usual in the British Isles. Most applications only contain a cover letter and a CV. The CV should be written in simple words and should begin with the latest entries first (reverse chronological).

You can send in certificates and diplomas, however they should be translated into English. Also, your school or university marks should be translated and adapted to the UK system. Also, most people state the name of references. Make sure your references are available and can give a positive impression about you. Photos are usually not included in applications. Most companies ask you to fill in an application questionnaire before inviting you to an interview.