For Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans coming to the United Kingdom on a Working Holiday Visa is a right of passage. It seems as though almost every young person from these countries come to the UK to work at some point and Canadians are slowly catching on.
There aren't nearly as many Canucks in the UK as there are antipodeans (a word you will come to know if you head to the UK) but we are going over in increasing numbers to take advantage of the 2 year work visa, great job opportunities, good money and the ease of travelling on short trips to mainland Europe to take in a variety of festivals, concerts and to explore as many places as you can.
The UK Working Holiday Visa allows Canadians to work in either England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. With each country being so different, the chance to explore a variety of cultures in two years is a fantastic opportunity. That said, many Canadians come over only to spend their entire time in London which can seem like a country unto intself.
Whatever you decide to do while in the UK, you will meet people from all over the world and have a chance to land jobs you probably wouldn't get at home and, while the cost of living can be high, with a bit of effort the potential to save a lot of money is also there.
The most expensive place in the UK is London and it's the place I know the best and where most travellers end up so the prices here are London-based. London hotels aren't as expensive as you may think as there are lots of different locations and levels of quality on offer. Staying in a hotel makes sense for a new arrival into the country. Everywhere outside London will be considerably cheaper, especially for accommodation and boozing it up. The Gumtree is a great resource for London but there are sites for a variety of cities in the UK which will give an indication of what rent will cost.
How much your rent costs can y vary drastically depending on what sort of conditions you're willing to put up with. Sharing a large, run down house with 15 other travellers with 2 and 3 to a room will be a lot cheaper than a bedsit to yourself but where you gain in privacy in a bedsit you might lose out on fun in a houseshare. I've seen beds in houseshares go for £190/month including bills and I know of bedsits that are upwards of £900/month. Practically speaking, if you're a typical Working Holidaymaker you'll be in a sharehouse with other travellers. Depending on the quality, size and location of the place your own room might set you back between £300-£600/month. Check out the ads on The Gumtree before you come over to get an idea of the costs.
Food in the UK can be expensive for certain things and cheaper for others. I come away with plenty of fresh veggies and meat for about £20/week. Microwave suppers and processed foods tend to be quite expensive. Best bet is to check out the websites for the major supermarkets. Some even deliver for not that much extra. I find ASDA to be the cheapest, Morrison's second, then Tesco and Sainsbury's. Waitrose and Marks and Spencers are pretty posh. Iceland is great for frozen crap and 2 for 1 deals. Sainsbury's does yummy microwave curries though!
Pub culture in the UK is huge and all day drinking sessions are not uncommon. Your best bet for saving money is to drink before going out or taking advantage of the wonderful freedom of drinking in public and plunking down in a park on a sunny day and having a good ol' session in the sun. There's no government regulated beer & liquor stores and booze is distributed through Off Licences and supermarkets. The smaller, family run Off Licences usually have the best deals and you can often get 8 500ml tins of Fostor's for £6 or 6 Strongbow for £5. If you plan on heading out on the town then many pubs have specials on on different nights. If you're in a student town there should be lots of good deals around. If you go a bit nuts with partying in the UK you can easily blow all your savings but if you are smart about it then you can have a great time while saving some cash.
If you are in a major city in the UK then public transport will probably be a lot more extensive and better than what we have in most places in Canada. You have to pay for it though! A tube pass for 3 zones (including bus travel) is about £85. Transport for London will have all the other pass prices plus a great journey planner feature to get you from A to B. Train travel between cities in the UK is quite expensive though and to get a good deal you'll have to buy well in advance. Perhaps the best thing about working in the UK is access to cheap plane travel to places all over Europe. Ryanair and Easyjet are the obvious cheapies but there are other options as well. Which Budget is a great site for finding which cheapo airlines fly where.
Ok put simply, getting a bank account is a pain in the ass and will be a really crappy introduction to the country and will probably put you in a bad mood for weeks. To open an account you will need your passport, proof of address, a letter from your employer, statements from your previous bank, and anything else you can get your hands on! To make the whole process worse, even the people working in the banks don't seem to know the score and you might find yourself being told to bring certain things and arriving for your appointment to find you need more information. Banks in places less populated with backpackers will be easier to open accounts in than London. If you want to avoid the hassle altogether then forking over £35 to First Contact is probably the way to go, especially if you need one pretty fast. It seems like a scam to have to pay money to make the process easy but money talks I guess.
National Insurance Number
Ok if you thought getting a bank account was mission impossible then you're not going to be happy to hear that getting your National Insurance Number (NI) will be the sequel. This is the equivalent to the Canadian SIN and you will need to get it to avoid being taxed at a higher rate. Some employers will force you to get it straight away but some are more flexible and many people have spent their entire time in the UK without one. To get it contact Inland Revenue to find out your local office, call them to set up an appointment (or to usually leave them a message to call you back with an appointment time), gather up all the documents you can muster and make the trip to their office to sit in a waiting room for hours for your interview. After this you will be issued with a letter stating your number is on the way (give this to your employer) and you will get your card in the mail a few weeks later.
The tax year in the UK runs from 1st April till 31st March. If you spend part of the tax year working without your NI number, only work part of the tax year, or head home before the end of the tax year then it is likely that you'll be owed a tax return. The good news is that, for most people, its a very straightforward process.... details....
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