Working in the UK

Working in the UK
Updated 2021-09-03 14:37

The UK is the sixth wealthiest country globally with $42,330 GDP per capita and annual growth of 1,5%. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't left the UK economy unaffected. However, with the end of the lockdown measures in July 2021, the government is confident that the UK economy will recover and return to pre-pandemic GDP levels. In the meantime, the UK has to deal with one more novelty — Brexit —, which has been in full force since January 2021, after a long-term adaptation period. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK's unemployment rate is low (4% in 2020), partly explained by the growth of zero-hour contracts, which have increased from 225,000 in 2000 to 896,000 in 2020.

Good to know:

Zero-hour contracts is a UK term for employment contracts that do not oblige the employer to commit to a minimum number of working hours.

Whether you are looking to boost your career in the UK or start your business, there are many professional opportunities for new graduates and mature candidates. However, the competition is high, and UK work visas are not easy to obtain unless you meet strict requirements (e.g. qualifications, soft and hard skills, experience, etc.). The UK job sector is diverse, and working conditions are modern, making the country a popular destination for international talent.

Long-term and short-term work visas

Depending on your nationality, the type of work you will be doing in the UK, and the contract you have signed with your employer, you will have to apply for the relevant long-term or short-term work visa. There are very few exemptions of cases that don't need a work visa to live and work in the UK. There are five kinds of long-term work visas, with the most popular being the points-based Skilled Worker visa. On the other hand, if the company you work for, let's say, in your home country, has a branch in the UK, your employer can employ you in the UK with a long-term Intra-company visa. Also, there are eight short-term work visas for temporary or seasonal workers in the UK. The Youth Mobility Scheme short-term visa is an excellent opportunity for people under 18 wanting to gain international work experience.


For detailed information about work visas in the UK, check out's article on professional visas in the UK.

Useful link:

Check if you need a UK visa

UK employers

Employers who want to hire expat professionals and foreign talent will have to obtain a sponsor licence to do so. Even if an organisation wants to bring a person from outside the UK to do unpaid work (e.g. offering services to a charity), the organisation will still need a sponsor licence. Sponsoring an employee doesn't mean that they will automatically be issued a work visa to live and work in the UK. Employees will still have to collect a certain amount of points to be eligible for a work visa. 

To get a sponsor licence for your business, you have first to check if your business is eligible (i.e. your business doesn't have a police record, and your previous sponsor license has not been revoked in the past 12 months). There are two types of sponsor licence: the worker licence for long-term employees and the temporary worker licence for temporary workers. As an employer, you can apply for one or the other, or both. Last but not least, you will need to hire someone (or a dedicated team) to manage employees' sponsorships and the entire process with the help of the government's sponsorship management system (SMS) tool. Once you have these steps completed, you can apply online and pay the fee.

If your application is approved, you will receive an A-rated (full sponsor) licence, allowing you to assign certificates of sponsorship. Earning an A-rated licence is one thing; keeping it is another. An A-rated licence may be downgraded to a B-rating at any time if you do not continue to meet your sponsor duties (e.g. check your international work force's skills and qualifications and have proof of them, issue certificates of sponsorship for jobs that are suitable for sponsorship, and inform the UKVI about employees who aren't complying with their visa conditions). However, you'll still be able to issue certificates to old employees who want to extend their visas. Employees whose employer loses their sponsor licence or they don't renew it can be affected depending on whether they are in the UK or outside the UK when the change occurs.

Good to know:

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) have the right to visit your business to check whether it meets the conditions for the sponsor licence.


If your licence is downgraded to B-rating, you won't be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship until you've made improvements and upgraded back to an A-rating.

Good to know:

A sponsor licence is valid for four years, but an employer may lose the licence at any time during this period if they don't meet their sponsor's responsibilities.

Useful links:

Apply for a sponsor licence

List of licenced organisations

A job applicant's right to work in the UK

Jobs in the UK

The biggest industries in the UK that offer the most work positions are banking and finance, insurance, engineering, healthcare, education, recruitment and HR. Other important sectors include metals, chemicals, aerospace, shipbuilding, motor vehicles, food processing, design, the arts and electronic and communications equipment. Accountant, Business Analyst, Data Scientist, HR Manager, Sales Professional, Nurse, Social Worker, Software Developer, Teacher, and Project Manager are some of the most popular job titles in the UK. If you look for a job in a multinational company in the UK, search for opportunities at Unilever, AstraZeneca, Royal Dutch Shell, BHP and Rio Tinto mining companies, GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceutical), and HSBC. Despite the mass privatisation in the UK, the biggest employers remain the publicly run NHS (also the biggest employer in Europe with 1.3 million skilled employees), the British Army, and the British Government Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Good to know:

According to The UK 300, the most popular graduate employers for 2020-2021 are Google, Cancer Research UK, BBC, GSK, and MI6 – Secret Intelligence Service.

The UK government's skills shortage occupations list shows that the shortage occupations for the Skilled Worker visa route are health managers, domiciliary care managers, nuclear scientists, biochemists, geologists, archaeologists, civil, mechanical, and electrical engineers, veterinarians, architects, etc. For jobs in the arts sector, your search should focus on London whereas, for jobs in marketing, Birmingham and Manchester are probably your best bet for boosting your career. 

Useful links:

NHS jobs

Careers in the British Army

Work for DWP

Getting a job in the UK

There are numerous ways to seek a position in the United Kingdom. Some of the most popular methods include internet research, spontaneous job applications, recruitment agencies, temporary employment agencies, job adverts in the press, and networking. Developing a professional network is crucial since many vacancies are not advertised, and job seekers learn about them by word of mouth.'s UK forum is an excellent tool for getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there. You can use the forum to inform people about the type of work you look for or to inquire about vacancies and future opportunities.

Speculative applications are always worth trying, especially when wanting to work for a smaller business where employers are more hands-on and have the capacity to develop rapport with each employee individually. Also, small and medium-sized businesses cannot always afford an HR team or staff to monitor the application process, relying on job seekers contacting them directly or through word of mouth. 


Before you start looking for jobs in the UK, familiarise yourself with the British labour market through's dedicated article.


For most job applications, you will have to send your CV and cover letter via email or fill out an online application form via the organisation's job application platform. Check out's article about preparing for a job interview in the UK, and find out more tips about adapting and writing your CV and cover letter according to UK standards. Remember to keep both documents clear and concise and communicate your ambitions and motivation!

Looking for jobs in the UK

Here are some ideas about where to search for job vacancies in the UK.

The media

Start by having a look at classified ads in the local newspapers. Many job vacancies in the UK are advertised in the media. Here are some options to explore:

The Guardian

The Independent

Daily mail

The internet

You can also have a look at global and local job websites. Some are specialised in posting job vacancies regularly, whereas others only update their listings occasionally. You can also register or submit your resume on these websites to make it easier for employers to contact you. Here are some top options to consider:

Jobcentre Plus

Adecco UK


Job Serve UK

Good to know:

Jobcentre Plus is a government agency, which is also part of the Department for Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom. You can contact your nearest Jobcentre Plus about benefit claims and your National Insurance Number.

Job fairs

Numerous career fairs are organised frequently in the United Kingdom, especially in large cities, so consider visiting as many as you can. Of course, when the COVID-19 restrictions were in force, many of these events occurred online, making it easier to participate from any part of the world. Career fairs make it easier to meet recruiters from various economic sectors. All you need to bring at the job fair is your CV and positive attitude and be prepared to initiate conversations with the industry or company representatives you are interested in working at. It's very likely to get hired after attending a job fair since many employers keep their eyes open for candidates that fit their organisation's culture before they even inquire about qualifications and experience.

Useful link:

Free upcoming job fairs across the UK

Recruitment agencies

Your chances of finding a job in the UK are also high when you visit the local job centres, which will provide you with an updated job listing from several top industries. They also provide the support needed from selecting a job offer to getting hired as they fully understand administrative procedures relating to finding work as an expat.

Many employers also turn to recruitment agencies to secure a faster hiring process and candidates with expert knowledge. The recruitment agency supports the organisation's HR team by skimming through the many applications and recognising the top candidates who will be contacted for an interview. However, besides being costly, recruitment agencies aren't great at spotting candidates who are a good cultural fit for organisations because their selection process is based on qualifications, skills, and professional experience. A recruitment agency wouldn't look very much into comparing a candidate's goals, values and vision against the company's.

Working in the post-COVID-19 era

According to YouGov, 57% of British workers want to continue working remotely some of the time (37%) or full-time (20%) when the COVID-19 restrictions are waived. At the same time, other international surveys show that working from home has increased productivity and has improved quality of life and work-life balance for many employees. Of course, not all jobs can be transferred online. Office-based jobs in the finance and IT sectors are much easier to do from home than manufacturing, factory, hospitality and retail jobs.

Working from home isn't equally accessible for everyone. For example, mature professionals (aged 40 ), who have climbed the career ladder already and earn more money are much more likely to be allowed or even encouraged to work from home than young staff members who are now beginning their career or doing an internship.

Work culture in the UK

In the UK, the working week is between Monday and Friday, usually from 9 AM to 5:30 PM with one 30-minute lunch break, usually taken at noon or a bit later. It is up to the employer to decide whether they want to pay the employees during the rest break, but the law doesn't oblige them. However, an employee cannot work for more than 48 hours a week unless they agree with their employer or are paid overtime. Also, employees are entitled to four weeks paid annual leave and paid sick leave and maternity and paternity leave. In addition, there are eight bank and public holidays in England and Wales and nine in Scotland.


If you take more than seven days in a row as sick leave, you will have to show your employer proof of illness from a medical professional.

Good to know:

Don't hesitate to ask your employer for flexible working. They may not always agree, but it's your right to initiate such a conversation.

Starting a new job in the UK

Usually, when you start a new job in the UK, you go through a one-month, three-month, or sixth-month probation period depending on the seniority of the role. Both parties (the employer and the employee) can use this time constructively to understand if they are a good fit for each other. During the probation period, both parties can terminate the contract giving short notice.

When starting a new job, you should check with your employer to make contributions to social security from your monthly salary towards your UK state pension. In addition, ensure that your employer has issued insurance for you that will cover you in the event of accidents and injuries at work or illness due to work. To boost your state pension, you can register for a company pension scheme (if offered by the company). Last but not least, the National Minimum Wage is updated on 1 April every year. Currently, the National Minimum Wage for employees aged 23 and over is £8.91 and £4.62 for youth under 18. Once you start earning money from employment or self-employment, you must pay 20% Income Tax if your earnings are above £12,500.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.