Guide to Contracting in the UK from Overseas

Since January 1st 2020 due to Brexit, EU and EFTA nationals no longer have the automatic right to live, study and work in the United Kingdom.

When don't I need a visa for the UK?

There are exceptions, writes Kevin Austin, managing director of contracting overseas advisory Access Financial, in so far as those rights are retained if the following conditions are met:

  • The person is a British national (which includes individuals from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man).
  • The person is an Irish citizen.
  • The person is a holder of ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status under the EU Settlement Scheme or they have a family permit under the scheme. (N.B. The deadline for most people to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme was June 30th 2021)
  • The person holds an indefinite leave to remain, or the right of abode, in the UK.

None of the above? You’ll need a UK visa, just like everyone else…

Everyone else who is not covered by the four categories, above, must have obtained the legal right to work in the UK if they wish to work – or contract – in the UK.

If that’s you and your from overseas, you need to know there are two classes of UK visa -- those that enable you to come to the UK with a job offer, and without a job offer.

The first category (i.e. visa with a job offer) covers the Health and Care Worker and Skilled Worker Visa (SWV).

Check if you qualify for a Skilled Worker Visa

Most overseas contractors will be covered by and therefore interested in the Skilled Worker Visa, unless you also happen to be a medical professional, in which case you may qualify under both schemes!

The conditions of the SWV are the following:

  • You must work for a UK employer approved by the Home Office.
  • You need to have a 'certificate of sponsorship' from your employer with information about the role you have been offered in the UK.
  • You have to do a job on the ‘eligible occupations’ list.
  • You must be paid a minimum salary. The salary level depends on the type of work you do.
  • You must have a confirmed job offer before applying for the visa and demonstrate that you can read, write and understand English.

Seven UK visas

If you do not qualify for a Skilled Worker Visa, then other options are available to you, and in all these cases, having a confirmed job offer to apply for them is unnecessary. The list is as follows:

  • British National (Overseas) Visa – essentially for Hong Kong nationals
  • Graduate Visa. This visa is for those graduating in the UK to stay on in the UK and work for up to two years.
  • Youth Mobility Scheme Visa -- for those aged between 18-30, albeit from a list of eligible countries.
  • India Young Professionals Scheme Visa. Similar to the YMSV, above, but solely for Indian nationals.
  • Global Talent Visa – for acknowledged leaders in academia, the arts or digital technology.
  • UK Ancestry Visa. This visa is for individuals from several countries who can prove that one of their grandparents were born in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man
  • High Potential Individual Visa -- for those who graduated within the past five years from a list of the designated Top 50 universities worldwide as of the time of graduation.

There is no space for further detail here on the eligibility criteria for each and every one of the seven UK visas above. But almost needless to say, you should check this information on the UK government website, to see if you qualify here.

How to get a job

Whichever visa you may qualify for, you will want a job, and many people will go to the leading job boards to find them.

Alternatively, you may wish to approach UK recruitment businesses that cover your specialism, and ask them to add you to their database for a role suited to you.

Two popular job boards are linked for you below, on top of 11 other websites that likewise offer paid employment and lucrative contract opportunities:

  1. Technojobs
  2. CV Library
  3. CW Jobs
  4. Escape the City
  5. Glassdoor
  6. Guardian Jobs
  7. Indeed
  8. Monster
  9. Adzuna
  10. Reed
  11. Totaljobs
  12. Unicorn Hunts
  13. WorkinStartups

To qualify for the Skilled Worker Scheme, you should consult the UK government’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL), which you can find here:

Taxes and costs

When you apply for a Skilled Worker visa, you will need to have enough money to:

  • Pay the application fee -- the standard fee ranges from £625 to £1,423, depending on your circumstances.
  • Pay the healthcare surcharge (‘IHS’) -- this is usually £624 per year
  • Support yourself when you arrive in the UK -- you will usually need to have at least £1,270 available (unless you are exempt).

You will pay a lower application fee if your job is on the SOL.

Contracting, self-employment and working for yourself in the UK if from overseas

You will most likely be employed as a contractor in the UK.

If the category requires you to have a firm job offer before you can apply, you will be employed and have to be employed by the body or business that sponsored your work visa.

You cannot be self-employed or use your limited company to contract, meaning you will be placed on a UK payroll, and the employer will deduct income tax (Pay As You Earn or PAYE) and social charges, which are called National Insurance Contributions or NICs.

If your visa falls under one of the other categories, then your choices are broader. You may have the option to be employed directly as described above, use an umbrella company to engage you, use your limited company, or be a sole trader. You may face resistance to the latter two as clients are nervous about meeting the risks of deemed employment and being responsible for your taxes.

Tax rules can be taxing

If you have a limited company, you will be subject to UK law, including IR35 and the Off-Payroll Working (OPW) rules. All but small companies (as your end-user / client)  will be responsible for deciding if you are caught by the legislation or not, and if you are, they will likely demand that you are payrolled, and they will not pay gross to your limited company. To avoid this, you could find smaller companies to contract with, as in these cases, it is the director of the limited company who must decide if the contract is inside or outside the IR35 legislation, which was introduced back in 2000.

For your reference, a ‘small company’ has any two of the following:

  • a turnover of £10.2 million or less
  • £5.1 million or less on its balance sheet
  • 50 employees or less.

The UK -- why bother? The benefits of contracting in the UK

The UK is still one of the world's largest economies; unemployment remains low by world standards and stands (at the time of writing) at 3.8%. The currently lengthy list of occupations suffering from shortages indicates job opportunities should be available for almost anyone with a good educational background, some demonstrable skills and who wants to work.

Plenty of great companies worth working for that also offer training are available in all the UK’s large cities, to enable and encourage anyone dissatisfied with their knowledge or skills to upgrade them.

Finally, my quick know-before-you-go…

Lastly, yes, the weather in the UK is notoriously unpredictable, changeable and can be dull to the extent of atrocious! People are usually in a great hurry, and housing is expensive by world standards. Transport can set you back eye-watering sums even for short-looking journeys, the beer is often warm but the society is largely tolerant, friendly, and supportive of those wanting to get on and work hard. English and many other languages dominate, with vibrant cultural hubs and thriving international communities to be found in many large towns. The food, nightlife and trains are passable, boisterous and unreliable, respectively, so don’t arrive late in the day and definitely pack your sandwiches!

Thursday 20th Apr 2023
Profile picture for user Kevin Austin

Written by Kevin Austin

Kevin is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, a Fellow of the Association of International Accountants and a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute.

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