How to Move to the UK If You’re From the U.S.

If you’re reading this, you probably have some fascination with Britain; perhaps you’re an Anglophile, or someone just looking for an adventure.  But if you’re an American hoping to move to the UK., unfortunately, you have few routes on offer these days.

When on moves to the U.K. there are the general concerns of finding the right place to live for the right price in the right location to get you to and from work and time off activities. The need for schools, or transport links, to drive or not to drive, setting up a bank account, moving monies from the US to the UK and back again, moving, shipping, shopping – all are large concerns if you’re setting up house for the first time in the U.K.

us uk flag on smitten by britain

But before you get around to dealing with those issues, you have a larger obstacle in front of you, with four little initials: UKBA. The United Kingdom Border Authority is tasked with imposing the laws of the land and you’ll find yourself trying to navigate those restrictions to see if you pass muster to live in the UK.

Coming to the UK, and staying, as an American (e.g., non-EEA citizen) is harder in 2014 than previous years. The Conservative government has included “reducing immigration” as a key tenet in their platform, and neither the Lib Dems or Liberals are likely to bring a change to this any time soon. Unless the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement addresses this concern, it looks like it’s just going to get harder and harder.

If you’re coming to WORK here as an American, you’ll need either a sponsoring organization or you will be an investor, entrepreneur, or be an exceptionally talented person as recognized by the few UK bodies that recognize one that is “exceptionally talented”.

Unless you are marrying, or married to, a UK or EEA (European Economic Area) citizen or can claim UK or EEA citizenship for yourself or your partner/spouse, American’s are down to the following categories:

  • Tier 1 of the points-based system – for investors, entrepreneurs, and exceptionally talented people.
  • Tier 2 of the points-based system – for skilled workers who have been offered a permanent job from a sponsoring organization
  • Tier 4 for going to school
  • Tier 5 for temporary workers with a job offer, or participants in the Youth mobility scheme, or a domestic worker in a private household, or a representative of an overseas business

Tier 4 and Tier 5 will not lead to settlement or citizenship in the UK, so they are temporary categories. Tier 4 applicants must have an offered position at a qualified educational institution, their visa lasting only for the time needed to conclude studies and attend graduation.

All Tier 5 categories, except the youth mobility scheme that Americans don’t qualify for, require 30 points for a valid certificate of sponsorship from a licensed UK employer, and 10 points for maintenance (having enough funds to support themselves in the UK – currently £900), and you must leave at the end of 12 months.

If you’re here on Tier 2 General (for the year from 6 April 2013 to 5 April 2014) a MAXIMUM of 20,700 skilled workers are allowed to come to the UK for jobs with an annual salary below £152,100.

There is no limit on the number of workers coming to the UK to do jobs with an annual salary of £152,100 or above; so, if you have a highly paid job and can get a sponsor, you’re in!

Tier 2 (Intra company transfer) won’t accrue time for settlement or citizenship and may require some continual luck as well (e.g., keeping their job, their sponsor keeping their sponsor licence, no M&A that results in the end of a sponsor licence, etc.). You can’t stay in this category more than 6 years, at which time you have to switch categories after a 1 year cooling off period OUTSIDE of the UK and start again.

I didn’t note the Tier 2 Minister of Religion or Sports and Creative workers sub-categories, but that’s not a common entry point for most Americans, but it does happen

There’s also a list of shortage occupations that might help some of you who have something very unique to bring to the country. This one hasn’t change in just under 3 years, but when it changes then you’re out unless you’ve managed to make to settlement or citizenship within 6 years or can switch to another category that will lead you to settlement and dual citizenship.

The bottom line is that, in 2014, it’s harder to come, and stay, than it was in the past. But, many will still find ways to come and enjoy it for a time before returning home. If you can satisfy the working restrictions, are getting married to British citizen, or can establish a dual European or UK citizenship before arriving, then welcome to the U.K.! If not, please come and visit often.

Philip is an American, and European. He has adopted London, but must share it with 8 million residents and 16 million visitors each year. Philip lives in the Royal Borough of Greenwich ( Zone 3) with his wife and child, the only one in the family actually born in London. Having grown up on the beaches of Southern California, London is penance for having perfect weather most of his life. No one ever moves to London for the weather.

Disclaimer:  By no means should anyone rely solely on this post for information on immigration to the UK.  Smitten by Britain is largely a travel blog written for entertainment and has no connection to the UK Border Agency, and no one writing for Smitten by Britain claims to be an expert on immigration. You are urged to take this post as general advisement and not information set in stone. Immigration laws change from time to time and while the information here may have been correct when it was written, it may not be accurate weeks, months or years later. Please refer to the UK Border Agency for current rules on immigration to the UK.


  1. Patricia Slice says

    What if you have dual citiapzenship by virtue of UK birth, but live in US? Born in Reading in ’44, British Mom, US Army dad, came to US in 1946.

  2. diane says

    And don’t forget, if your marry a Brit, they still have to make a certain amount of money at a minimum or you can’t get approval to move to the UK. I have a friend going through this right now and it’s just terrible she can’t live with her husband because he’s making just below the minimum and not by choice because his work was cut back. I didn’t even realize this was possible.

    • ACC says

      How hard is it? The only way I can be with my British boyfriend is if we marry. I’m so worried about the whole visa process, the costs, and whether or not I’ll get approved. What are the costs to obtaining a spouse visa? Would it be easier to marry in the States and apply for the visa here or marry in England and pray I get approved? Any help with this issue and I’ll be so grateful! It would be great to talk to other ladies or gents who are going through this too! Thanks :)

  3. Lu Ann says

    I did my immigration test in September 2013. I came over October 2011 to be with my British husband. It was nerve racking with all the changes that were coming into play. I made it just under the wire. I didn’t choose citizenship though, I went with residency.

  4. Valerie Haslett says


    • Lorena says

      Valerie–Did you not read this article? There are several different tiers to grant entry into the UK that all involve having to work and contribute to the UK economy. This even extends to people who are planning on moving into the country through marriage as there is a financial requirement. I see nothing wrong with that. Perhaps you should think about that before spouting off and sounding like a total idiot.

    • Melissa says

      You will need to Google “How to move to the U.K. to retire.” From what I remember you must have a certain level of income and savings to the point that you do not have to rely on any British resources for support. This includes your health care. You’ll need to make sure your health care coverage can be used in the UK because you won’t be allowed to rely on the NHS. Again, you should Google the subject because I am not an expert. Since it’s not mentioned in the Tiers I’m betting that the only way you can go over is on your passport which means you are only allowed to remain in the UK for six months at a time. So, in fact, retiring there permanently is probably not possible unless you fit into one of the tiers mentioned.

  5. Janet says

    Speaking of retirement…if you are married to a Brit and both living currently in the US, can you both retire to the UK and have healthcare there? I would only have Medicare at retirement age and naturally would have contributed nothing to anything in the UK…just wondering if anyone has gone through this…..thanks!

  6. says

    I have “right of abode” which is a category that includes children on British citizens. Until the mid-70′s it was only through the father, because they didn’t want all of the children of British women who had married US soldiers to move back to the UK. Since mine came through my father, I could get right of abode. I had to have an interview at the consulate in NY and then be approved. My right of abode enabled me to live and work in the UK and travel in Europe without any problem. It’s good for 10 years at a time and is part of my passport.

  7. Judy says

    I was lucky on so many fronts. I lived 10 years in the UK and am now 5 years back in the US. First two years on an academic visa. Next two years sponsored by my employer due to the lack of high level IT workers. I then got permanent residency rights. Not too long after that I met and married my British husband. I went through the entire citizenship process and actually qualified on two fronts: (1) a resident for the required number of years and (2)married to a Brit. I am now a dual citizen and carry two passports. I was able to get employment just before the UK’s entry into the EU so I didn’t have to compete with all of the EU citizens and it all just rolled out nicely from there. I’m now retired and receive a British state pension and also a private pension from various employers. I value my UK citizenship and am grateful for my time there but I also feel that I contributed to the UK economy and also added worth to all of the jobs/activities I did. So it works both ways.

  8. Linda Angerer says

    I am a US citizen and my b/f is from the UK, so far I have been commuting back n forth to stay with him for 6 monhs. seems each time Immigration @ the airport give me a harder time the more I go, you would think being I always have a 2-way ticket and have always went back on time they would quit giving me the 3rd degree, even when I got to the airport here in the states they did it, I wanted to say to them ” I am back stateside so why do you care why I was there for 6 months and what was I doing” sheesh lol We have been looking into all the paperwork with getting married and it seems it would be easier for us to be married here in the states then go to an British Embassy here in the states to fill out the paperwork, but that seems to easy and I have read horror stories even when people get married and still cant stay more than 6 months :-/

    • Melissa says

      I have heard that even though technically you can stay 6 months, eventually you may start getting a hassle from customs and immigration if you do it too often, say, yearly. They’ll start asking a lot of questions. I’ve heard about British spouses being given a hard time by U.S. immigration for entering and leaving the U.S. too many times. But, just because you’re married doesn’t mean it’s instantly easy to be able to live in the UK. As someone commented in this thread, there are income requirements among other things.

      • Nancy Kelley says

        Even my 1.5 month stay last fall raised some eyebrows, until I explained the first week and a half I’d be with a tour group. They take their rules seriously and certain things will naturally raise suspicion.

        • Melissa says

          The do in the U.S. too. You should have heard the grilling hubby and I received at the Canadian border last summer. I felt like I was back in the military getting yelled at by a drill sergeant!

    • Nancy Kelley says

      They may be wondering if you’re working remotely while you’re in the UK, which the UKBA still considers to be working in the UK, thus requiring a visa. I was detained at customs once as an author while they grilled me about how much “work” I planned to do in the 2 weeks I was there. This thread explains their thoughts on the subject:

  9. Chris Farrar says

    So if you have dual citizenship with Ireland, an EU/EEC member, you just have to show up with your possessions?

  10. Deb yoder says

    I can understand the need for the rules, and applaud the UK for raising the bar for the people trying to get in. What really irks me is that, in the US and UK, all of the asylum seekers manage to get in and feel that they are entitled to everything, want to change laws and cultures, and some cause a lot of trouble.

  11. Sara says

    I have been married to a British citizen for 23 years. He has been back in the UK for the last three years first to care for and then buried his Dad and is now caring for his very sick Mum. Am I able to go to the UK and stay longer then a few weeks?

  12. audrey mathews says

    so I guess I’ll just visit when I can and am able. I understand but I have to agree with Deb,asylum seekers will stick together and want the Brit or Us culture to change to suit them and cause a lot of trouble.why then,do they allow more asylum seekers?

  13. Nancy Kelley says

    I’m actually very interested in the Tier 2 Creative sub-division, but it isn’t easy to find information on it. (Such as qualifying sponsors, which I assume I would need.) Oh for the days of the old “creatives” visa that made things easier–if only I’d been ready to move five years ago.

  14. Rosemarie Wicke says

    What about if you are retired and a US citizen, my husband is but I am not. I have duel citizenship, born in Norfolk and I am not old enough to retire yet?

  15. Michelle Proctor says

    Depressing. I would do anything to get out of the US. My dream is to one day be able to retire there. The US has lost its collective mind.

  16. Judy says

    Another entire topic of conversation, but related, is how to get your pet in and out of the UK. If you want to take your dog or cat to the UK, be prepared to have the poor beast quarantined for 6 months. We brought our wonderful Cats Protection kitty back with us from the UK to the US, no problem at all.

  17. Glenn says

    I am a UK citizen currently living in Canada, engaged to a Canadian whose mother is Dutch-born.

    If we decided to return to my native Scotland in the not-too-distant future, am I correct in thinking she could obtain a Dutch passport and thus have the right to live and work there with me?

    Any advice and opinions are very welcome.

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