Moving from Canada to London to Work as a Freelancer

Earlier this year I’ve moved from Canada to London, UK. I moved for the great tech industry here in London and also for my love of Europe. I’m here on an Ancestry Visa, but upon arriving there was a lot more setup work to get established in England than I had originally expected… so I’ve decided to blog about it!

The first thing I did upon arrival… was get a SIM card! I had previously been with Vodafone when I lived in Europe before, so I got a pay as you go account with them here in the UK with an unlocked mobile I had previously owned. If you have credit in England and want a good priced contract phone, I’ve been recommended Carphone Warehouse.

Almost everything here requires an address. The best flat finding site I used was SpareRoom. Other popular sites include rightmove and Gumtree. Be aware of SCAMS however, it’s a problem in London. Initial deposits for a room or entire flat can be quite large, but it tends to range from around 1-1.5x what a month of your normal rent would cost. It’s common to pay either per week (pw) or per month (pm) with either cash or bank transfers.

Once you get an address, if you’re on a visa which allows work, you can apply for the National Insurance (NI) number. This is the number you will give an employer and is equivalent to a SIN number in Canada. You must phone first and give all your details to get an application started. The application package will take up to 2 weeks to be mailed to your address. Once you receive the package, you must complete it within the time required and then mail the application back in the envelope provided. Up to another 4 weeks can go by before you receive  your NI number in the mail, however, you’re able to start work without an NI number if you can show an employer that you have the right to work in the UK.

Opening a British bank account was a bit harder than I had anticipated. You must make an appointment first to open an account at a branch. Some nationalities will have to have proof of permanent address before opening a bank account, which can include a recent utilities bill, bank statement, or something similar that has been mailed to you within the last 3 months. If you’re just moving a good thing to use can be your NI letter you received with your application package. I went with Lloyds Bank after receiving good recommendations from people I know and also because at Lloyds, Canadians, along with several other nationalities, do not need proof of permanent address. You do however need an address that your bank card and PIN number can be mailed to. I would suggest opting into paper statements to start as a way to collecting proof of your address. Long-term proof of address can be required for things like exchanging your driver’s license for a UK license.

It’s a good idea to register with a GP in your area once you have found a permanent address. There are many NHS clinics around town, so you must live in a catchment area of a clinic in order to be able to register there. Most clinics will show on their website which areas they provide service to. Once you have registered with a clinic, you will be mailed an NHS info card within 4-6 weeks which will have your NHS number.

The final step to working for yourself in the UK is to register as a sole trader with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) taxes. This at least is a simple online application, but it will require your NI number. Once the application is submitted they say it will take about a week to receive your info in the mail, which will include your business number.

Phew! It can be tiring to get setup in England! I’m glad I’m on my way there and hope this can help any other new arrivals through the process!