UPDATED, 3 September 2013
Relocating abroad is stressful. There’s no getting around it. Opening a bank account, finding somewhere to live, applying for a national insurance number (if you’re moving to the UK), getting a new phone number… The list goes on, each item posing its own set of challenges. I was lucky that I’d had several friends who’d previously relocated and who willingly shared their tips with me. And, luckily, my wonderful cousin Cerrie, who lived outside London for several years, came over to Hertfordshire on my most recent trip this week to help me sort out some of the bigger details. I was so glad she did!
Below is my personal experience of negotiating various challenges — others might have found relocating more straightforward (and if so, I’d love to hear about it), but hopefully what follows might be of some use to others relocating for work.
Chicken or Egg: Bank Account or Rental Agreement?
Depending on who you deal with, a tenancy agreement can be signed without having a bank account to set up a standing order. But then, generally speaking, you can’t open a bank account without proof of address. A maddening catch 22.
Without proof of an English address, opening a bank account was always going to be difficult. But I had no idea I would be left seething.
On one of my earlier visits, I dealt with an extremely helpful cashier at NatWest. Since I didn’t yet have a utility bill in my name and my University of Hertfordshire contract wasn’t acceptable — bizarre given that if I were an incoming student there, it wouldn’t have been a problem — she went out of her way to find a way around the restrictions. After consulting with others more senior, she told me that details of my Irish bank account would be acceptable as a temporary measure. Relieved, I made an appointment to open an account on my next trip over.
By the time my appointment came around for Tuesday of this week, I’d actually found somewhere to live (more on this below). Off I went with my tenancy agreement, delighted with myself that I had the proof of an English address that would make the process much smoother. Not so.
If my agreement had been with the council, the bank would have accepted it. But this is not the case with a private tenancy agreement, even though it is with a reputable letting agent who is roughly five minutes walk away. Nonetheless, rules are rules, and I still had my Irish documents to fall back on.
Incredibly, though, the woman I met with in NatWest on Tuesday morning told me the information I had been given was incorrect. And this is where it got really maddening: if I didn’t have an English address, the Irish documents could have been used. When I enquired why I hadn’t been told this when I first called in, I got a vague response, followed by repetition of the phrase ‘I’d need a code to over-ride the system’ and — rather annoyingly — a spiel about how she’d had similar problems when she moved in with her partner. None of this was any use to me.
She suggested that I bring back a utility bill in a month. We pointed out that my letting agent required my bank details to set up direct debits for my utility bills, so that was a no-go. Cue the ‘I’d need a code to over-ride the system’ response.
I won’t go into the ins and outs of the various failed attempts that followed to try get acceptable documentation showing my new address.
In the end, we decided to try a different bank. Lloyds TSB was just brilliant. I can’t praise them enough for the hassle-free and straight-forward process. My passport and new address were sufficient to meet their criteria and thirty minutes later we left with my current account set up, and with the added bonus of a new savings account created and internet banking activated!
Lloyds were great. If Tuesday’s experience was anything to go by, I can’t imagine I’ll be looking elsewhere. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the documents required by other banks. Even if you’re not keen on banking with them long-term, sign up with whoever is easiest and you can always change banks once the utility bills start arriving. But above all, give yourself plenty of time — it may take more than one trip to the branch.
I can’t praise Amit from Moving Places in Hatfield enough. In the absence of an English bank account, he accepted my Irish account details in the interim. He listened to what I was looking for and — quite amazingly — the first place he showed me ticked all the boxes. There were a few minor issues in the apartment when I moved in, but he dealt with them in a speedy and efficient manner.
Go through a letting agent rather than the property owner directly. It’s in the interest of the agency to ensure that their tenants are happy.
More importantly, though, make sure to factor into the rent the cost of the yearly council tax in England because this will increase the overall annual cost. If you’re living alone, you’re entitled to a discount if you fill out the Council Tax Discount Form, available to download from your local council website. If you’re not in the UK, enquire about other hidden charges.
It would also be worth dealing with an agent that doesn’t let to students or, at the very least, if renting an apartment, asking if any of the other units have been leased to students.
P45 (Added 3 September 2013)
I haven’t yet been issued a P45, but it wasn’t a problem when I went to my HR welcoming meeting yesterday. In fact, most of those in attendance didn’t have theirs, either.
In the interim, you can fill out a P46 form, which HR will provide.
National Insurance Number
This was another case of mixed messages.
Before coming over on my most recent trip, I rang the Job Centre Plus Application Line to make an appointment to apply for my National Insurance Number. I was told that I’d need to be in the country, have an English address and an English contact number.
When I went over to the UK on Monday this week, I decided to try again. I spoke to a different person this time who reassuringly told me not to worry about not having an English contact number (I want to sign up for a bill phone, but obviously couldn’t until I got my bank account sorted). She took my details and then made my appointment – which is for just over a week’s time.
On the day, you’ll need to bring your passport, proof of address (tenancy agreement is acceptable) and contract of employment.
There’s at least a week’s wait for an appointment for the area I’m living in. The waiting time probably varies from place to place but, since you’ll need to provide this number on your first day of work, it would still be worth leaving plenty of time to arrange an interview just to be on the safe side. And if whoever you speak to insists that a contact number is necessary, try again later in the day. That said, have one organised by the date of the interview.
Updated, 3 September 2013: I had my interview last Friday and it was very straightforward. They asked for my Irish PPS number (which I couldn’t remember), so I’d advise bringing that with you, even though it’s not on the official list of documents you need to produce. Also, I was under the impression that I would be given a temporary number and that an official National Insurance card would be sent out in the post. This is not the case. Cards are no longer issued, and it can take up to four weeks to receive the letter with your number in the post. For me, this means that I might have problems getting paid this month. To update my advice from above: not only allow plenty of waiting time for the appointment, but, if at all possible, also factor in waiting time for your number to arrive in the post so that you have it to give to HR when you start work.
Mobile Phone Number
I wanted to sign up for a bill phone so, of course, I needed a bank account. Once I eventually opened one, I popped into my local o2 store. However, the account number and sort code aren’t sufficient, and I’ll have to wait until my debit card arrives in the post.
A cheap pay-as-you-go phone might be the way to go at the start, especially if you’re ringing letting agents or making other appointments. Roaming gets expensive, especially if you’re on a bill phone back home.
Size vs Weight: Moving
The removals company arrive today (Thursday) to collect my boxes and they’ll be delivered Friday of next week.
In the end, I went with Careline. They charge by size. 100 cubic feet is roughly the equivalent of twenty boxes, or suitcases can be substituted for boxes. The handlers will come to your house, take an inventory of your boxes and then deliver them into your new home. There’s an extra charge if you’re living above the first floor of an apartment building, but it’s nothing major and if the boxes are especially heavy, it’s worth paying that little bit extra. For me, 100 cubic feet, delivered from Dublin to the fourth floor of an apartment building that has a lift in Hatfield, UK, cost me €629.15.
UNI Baggage charge by weight: £15.99 per 30kg, delivered 48 hours later, or £17.99 per 30kg, delivered 24 hours later. Although they market themselves as movers for students, they’ll deliver for non-students, too.
If you’re shipping a lot of books (or other heavy items), then a mover that quotes by size rather than weight might be the way to go.
Updated, 3 September 2013: My boxes arrived in a timely manner. The man who unloaded them and brought them into my apartment was friendly and efficient. I would have no hesitation in using Careline again, or recommending them to others.
If anyone has other tips, please do leave them in the comments section below. Thanks.