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Social Security and Business in the UK

Do you need information on working in the UK as an expatriate? The UK — and London in particular — is an attractive destination for foreign employees and global companies. InterNations gives you a rundown of the essential aspects of working in the UK, from entry permits to British business etiquette.
Don't neglect your finances and pension plan while working in the UK!

National Insurance and National Health

As soon as you start working in the UK, register for tax purposes, or claim benefits, you need a National Insurance Number. Your employer or the person handling your claim at the Jobcentre Plus requests one for you from the Department of Working, Jobs, and Pensions. You just have to provide proof of identity.

Foreigners working in the UK are usually well provided for. There is no need to take out special health insurance because every resident is entitled to free treatment through the NHS. All you need to do is register with your general practitioner (GP) — your local doctor. You can, of course, opt for private health insurance, and you may even get a deal if you go through your employer.

UK Pension Plans — State or Private?

As soon as you take up paid employment, National Insurance contributions are deducted from your salary. These are used to build up your basic State Pension. Everyone who has paid National Insurance contributions is entitled to this pension once they have reached State Pension age, even if they no longer live in the UK. If you have only worked in the UK for a few years, your basic State Pension will naturally be relatively small. In fact, to get any of the new State Pension, which goes into effect 6 April 2016, you need to have worked for at least ten years in the UK.

Anyone reaching the State Pension age before this date will fall under the current scheme. This means the maximum they get under the basic State Pension is 115.95 GBP per week. The good news is that this increases every year by whichever of the following figures is highest:

  • the average percentage growth in wages (in Great Britain)
  • the percentage growth in prices in the UK as measured by the Consumer Prices Index
  • 2.5%

The full new State Pension will be at least 151.25 GBP a week and the total amount will be based on your National Insurance record and any additional contributions you might have made over the years.   

A private pension plan to support your state pension comes highly recommended. A good way to go about this is to use Pension Wise, a free and impartial government service informing you of your pension options. Contacting an independent financial advisor to help you map out all your options and decide which one suits your situation best is also a good way to start.

Alternatively, many employers offer company pensions or group personal pensions (a private pension scheme). You decide how much of your monthly salary goes into your pension pot, and this contribution is usually matched by your employer. Some schemes have government contributions via tax relief.

While this is a great means to stock up your pension, you should always check the transfer and pay-out options beforehand. This way, you’ll ensure that you don’t lose any money upon leaving the UK.

The UK’s Social Security Agreements

The UK has social security agreements with most EEA states and some other countries (e.g. Canada, Israel, the Philippines and the USA). This means that the National Insurance contributions you have made in the UK will count towards any benefits you might be entitled to in your country of origin.

It is important that you keep all important documents you receive from your employer or from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to assist future claims. When leaving the UK on completion of a work assignment, you may be entitled to tax repayment for that year. The relevant forms and more information on social security agreements can be found on the HMRC website.

Our article on social security in the UK has more information on social security, pensions, and unemployment benefits in the UK.

Diversity and Divergent Social Mores in the UK

In some ways, British society can be perceived as a place where traditional and modern attitudes meet. While the latter is mainly due to its increasing cultural diversity, the former manifests itself in a lingering class consciousness. This combination of new communities and old-fashioned social mores might be a new experience for some, but, at best, will give rise to a rich and diverse cultural scene.

While the term cultural diversity is mainly associated with people from different ethnic backgrounds, in the UK not all residents of British origin identify as English. Be aware of the strong sense of regional identity among the Scottish, the Welsh, and the Northern Irish.

Ethnic diversity has had one major impact on employment and the job market in general in the UK: most British employers believe in equal opportunities, and any perceived discrimination on grounds of race, sex, age, or disability will be taken seriously. You can expect to be treated with respect regardless of your background, and society will demand equal respect from you in return.

British Business Etiquette: Reading between the Lines

The atmosphere in the work place depends very much on the company you work for. Young companies, especially in the media and creative fields, tend to be less formal than traditional businesses with strict hierarchical structures. Colleagues and business partners usually address each other by their first name, but to avoid possible embarrassment in a new environment, you should observe common practice. Business gifts will be considered out of place in British companies.

The British style of conversation is something you might have to get used to. It is indirect, understated, and equivocal. In meetings, try to refrain from definite statements or direct criticism. A blunt objection could be considered as impolite. Similarly, to effectively communicate with the British, it is important to read between the lines of polite conversation. Hints, as opposed to outright statements of discontent, will dictate most conversations you have in the UK.

Avoid embarrassing faux pas while working in the UK by reading our article on British Business Culture!


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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