This post was updated 16 December 2019.
The United Kingdom is the most popular working holiday destination of all the working holiday destinations. Literally thousands head there every year to live, work and play in London and the UK on a working holiday. Why? There are a number of reasons why a working holiday in the UK is so popular. These include the visas that exist to extend your stay, the work opportunities available and the close proximity to Europe and beyond for travelling. Three great reasons don’t you think? And now it is your turn to go, so read on and get prepared to have the time of your life living, working and playing in London and the UK on a UK working holiday.
UK Working Holiday Visas
The two most popular visas that allow you to extend your stay in the UK are the UK Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa (formerly known as the working holiday maker visa) and the UK Ancestry Visa.
UK Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme Visa
The UK Tier 5 Mobility Scheme Visa also known as the UK Youth Mobility Scheme (YMNS) allows you to live and work in the UK for two years. To qualify you must:
- be a citizen of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Taiwan or Republic of Korea.
- be between the ages of 18-31 years inclusive.
- have the equivalent of GPB1,800 in a bank account at the time of the application.
- have no major criminal convictions.
UK Ancestry Visa
You can apply for a UK Ancestry Visa if you are a Commonwealth citizen and have a grandparent from the UK (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man). Being granted an Ancestry Visa will enable you to live and work in the UK for up to 5 years. Towards the end of the 5 years, you can either apply to settle in the UK permanently or extend your visa. To be eligible you must:
- prove you are a Commonwealth Citizen
- be aged 17 years or over
- have a grandparent who was born in the UK, or have a grandparent that was born in the Republic of Ireland before 31st March, 1922.
- be both able and planning to work in the UK
- support yourself and your dependents without help from public funds.
If you do not qualify for the Youth Mobility Visa or the UK Ancestry Visa you might want to consider other visas such as a student visa. At time of writing this the UK was still part of the EU however and EU passport holders can live and work in the UK however, it is uncertain how things will change once the UK has left the EU.
How to apply for a UK Visa
You will need to apply on-line for your visa. You will then need to attend an appointment at your closest British High Commission or Consulate to have your biometric data taken. This is the process where you will have your fingerprints scanned and a digital photo taken. It is compulsory to have your visa entered into your passport before you arrive in the UK as you cannot apply for one in the UK. Contact your nearest British High Commission or British Consulate General to apply or visit UK government website.
The Best Time to go to the UK on a Working Holiday
Any time is a good time to go to the UK on a working holiday in my opinion. Though the seasons, airfare and accommodation costs, work availability and other things like attending special events or finishing your studies can all play in deciding when to go.
During my 4 years living in the UK I found there to be four distinct seasons. The winters can be very cold with snow and there can be heatwaves in summer. If you prefer the warmth you are better to arrive in late spring or summer as during mid-winter temperatures can hover around single Celsius figures. But don’t let cold weather deter you as winter can be a magical time of year. Christmas lights shine, chestnuts are roasted on street corners, shoppers scurry to the sales, you could enjoy a warm ale by a log fire or get a job in the Scottish ski fields.
The cost of airfares and accommodation can vary greatly between seasons. During the warmer months short-term accommodation prices can sky-rocket with the increase of tourists. If saving a few dollars is important to you then I would suggest you arrive during the spring or autumn.
Work is available all year round however, some jobs can be seasonal. Summer is when many British take their holidays and flee to European hotspots. This is also the time when many working holiday makers who arrived the year before and settled in for winter take off on their European jaunts. It is also a time when many visitors come to London to sightsee so hospitality establishments like bars, cafes, hotels and hostels need staff. If you are a teacher though, the school year finishes in June and resumes in September so you might need to travel during this time or work in another industry.
Seeing the sites and attending special events can also play a part when you move to London. Though remember, the working holiday visa is for 2 years so it doesn’t matter if you miss out on Wimbledon, The Trooping of the Colour or Ascot as they will happen again.
How to get to the UK
It will depend on where you are coming from as to how you get to the UK. Many fly into London’s international airport, Heathrow. If this is how you will be arriving you will need an airfare. To compare airfares and to find one that suits your budget and your travel plans check out Skyscanner.
The UK also has great links via ferry, buses and trains from Ireland, Europe and Scandinavia. Meaning you could come overland and over the sea. Or under if you come through the Euro Tunnel.
Things to do on arrival in the UK
Before you can begin to live, work and play in the UK there are some things you will need to do first.
- Pick up your BRP (British Residency Permit).
- Apply for your NIN (National Insurance Number) – you need one of these to receive health care and so the right amount of tax is taken from you salary.
- Open a bank account
- Find somewhere to live
- Find a job
- Do some sightseeing like taking the BigBus London Tour.
Living in the UK – Types of Accommodation in the UK
The accommodation in the UK ranges from hostels to B&Bs to hotels whose names appear on the Monopoly Board Game to farm houses and even castles are opening up their doors. But when you first arrive you will need short-term accommodation of which there is plenty.
Most travellers arriving on a working holiday will arrive in one of the major cities but particularly London. No matter where your initial stay will be I suggest you book accommodation for your arrival for one week but preferably two. I suggest two as by the time you have arrived, maybe adjusted your body clock to the local time, done some sightseeing and got your BRP and applied for a NIN, the two weeks will probably be up. And you don’t want the added pressure of finding more short term accommodation when you are trying to find a job, long-term accommodation and doing other things.
Short-term accommodation options
So with the visas available, the abundance of work opportunities and the potential to travel around Europe and beyond, London and the UK remain the most popular working holiday destination.
Get the info you need in our ebook
If you are considering heading to the UK on a working you will no doubt have many questions like: What is a BRP? Where will I live? What type of accommodation is available? What work is available? What is a national insurance number and why do I need one? Should I take out travel insurance? Live Work and Play in London and the UK has been answering FAQs about working holidays in the UK since it was first published in 1995 including all those questions above. Get your copy now and get going to London.
The UK has an abundance of short-term accommodation. As most working holiday makers arrive in London here are some options for your initial stay. And yes, I’ve stayed in quite a few of them.
There are plenty of hostels in London to get a bed in. They vary in creature comforts and some include more services like a bar, restaurant, etc. than others. Some don’t mind you staying long-term if you can’t find a place to live. Some include:
You are spoilt for choice with the range of B&Bs and budget hotels on offer. Some include:
Another option could be housesitting. If you don’t know much about housesitting get the lowdown in my blog How to be a Housesitter and get free accommodation.
Long-term London accommodation
If you are one of the lucky ones who has a bed or even a floor to sleep on when you arrive, you’re off to a very good start. Finding somewhere to live can be one of the most daunting tasks you will ever have to tackle while on a working holiday. This is because there is fierce competition for the accommodation that is available.
Looking for long-term accommodation in London can be a full-time occupation. Before you start to look, you need a rough idea about the area you would like to live in and what it has to offer. Before you sign on the dotted line, throw in to the equation:
- how far is the accommodation from public transport. You don’t want a long walk each day to the train, tube or bus stop.
- Check what travel zone the accommodation is in. The further out the cheaper your rent might be but you will have higher travel expenses and longer travel time to get in to the city and maybe to your work.
- Have a look at what services are available. Without a car, having a supermarket, laundrette, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and pubs nearby are great.
To find long-term accomodation check out websites such as Spareroom.co.uk. And for loads more information on finding long-term accommodation can be found in my ebook LiveWork&Play in London & the UK.
Working in the UK – Work Types for Working Holiday Makers to the UK
Whatever field you work in at home (teacher, trades, hospitality, accounting, banking and finance, administration, health and medical, etc.) you should be able to find employment in that field in the UK also. There are literally hundreds of employment agencies that can help you find work. Some professions such as legal and medical, ie lawyers, doctors, nurses, physios, pharmacists, etc. require you to register with the peak body in the UK before you can undertake such work. This can involve sitting exams and can be expensive and time consuming, but many do it. If you decide not to, there is still plenty of work in those fields but as assistants.
Other working holiday makers take on some of the typical traveller jobs which can include:
Live-in Barwork: You don’t necessarily need experience to find a job in a pub cause many ‘Guv’nors’ of the establishment are happy to show you the ropes. Though experience is good to have. A great thing about finding a live-in pub job is that you will get accommodation, some meals and a wage. Basically it takes care of finding a job and a place to live in the one hit.
Live-in Nanny or Mother’s Help: Securing a live-in nanny or mother’s help job will see you with accommodation and a job in the one go. You don’t necessarily need qualifications to find such work thought having some experience and a love of children will stand you in good stead. Positions range from being a sole-charge nanny where you have sole-charge of the kid/s to being a mother’s help which can involve helping the mother. This could mean light housework, cooking meals, etc. You can find a nanny or mother’s help job through one of the many recruitment agencies or check out The Lady magazine.
Scottish Ski Resorts: During winter snow comes to the UK and in particular Scotland. There are 5 ski resorts in Scotland where you could find a position. If you don’t find one in the resort then the local major towns might yield opportunities. In fact Aviemore is often referred to as Aussiemore due to the large number of Aussies who get work there. Read my blog on working in a Scottish Ski Resort here.
Hostels: Hostels are not only great places to stay but they can also offer employment. You could find yourself greeting guests at reception to cleaning the rooms to working in the kitchen or bar if they have one. The best way to find such a job is to ask at the place you are staying or you could contact places that you find through Hostelworld. Read my blog on finding work in a Hostel.
Busking and entertainment: Busking and street performing can be done pretty much anywhere, though the most popular places to ply your trade include shopping mails, outside or near tourist attractions and public transport stations. You should check with the local council whether or not you are required to have a permit. If you are ever approached by the law you can always plead ignorance. Read my blog on Busking or Street Performing.
Freelance Travel Writing/Blogging: Many magazines and newspapers rely on freelance contributions to fill their pages. Travel editors in particular are always looking for well-written articles accompanied by photographs. There are many magazines and on-line forums who would be interested in your time in Italy. You may want to start your own blog specifically about some aspect of the UK. Read my blog on How to Start a Blog. It gives a warts and all overview of starting a blog.
Hospitality and Tourism: Tourism is one of the bigger industries to find work in in the UK. Anyone wishing to work in tourism will stand their best chance at finding work in a hostel and other accommodation, cafes, restaurants and in bars. Though not always paid well, it can be a satisfying job for travellers. Some jobs offer accommodation such as if you find a job in pub – this takes care of finding accommodation and a job in the one go.
WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms): If you would like to experience life working on an organic farm, you could WWOOF your way around the UK. No, no, no, you don’t have to do dog impressions, even though you will find yourself digging in the dirt. WWOOF is an exchange program – in exchange for your willingness to work, you will receive food and lodging. As well as gain first-hand knowledge of agricultural methods and experience your host’s way of life. Check out WWOOF UK for details.
What to see, do and visit in London and the UK
You will have it in your mind what you might want to see, do and visit while in the UK. From visiting the tourist sites in London to hunting for the Loch Ness Monster to seeing the White Cliffs of Dover. Click on the link following to find out some sightseeing options. You can also read my blog What to see and do in London – a 5 day itinerary for first timers.
The UK as your Travel base
The UK is a great base to work to earn extra money to launch your travels in to Europe, Scandinavia and other countries. There are many well-worn paths that travellers take through Europe to include events such as Running with the Bulls in Pamplona, drinking a stein of beer at the Munich Beerfest and for Australians and New Zealanders being in Gallipolli for ANZAC Day. There are many ways to travel including taking a tour with Contiki, purchasing a Eurail Pass, purchasing or renting a vehicle, getting a bus pass or purchasing a cheap air ticket. So many options.
Final Thoughts on a Working Holiday in the UK
Living, working and playing in London and the UK is a unique opportunity that most people don’t get the chance to experience, but you have chosen to. There will be challenges and cultural differences but that is part and parcel of moving to another country to live, work and play for an extended stay. So with the visas available, the abundance of work opportunities and the potential to travel around Europe and beyond, London and the UK remain the most popular working holiday destination. Enjoy your working holiday in the UK. For extensive information on a UK working holiday get a copy of my ebook Live Work and Play in London and the UK.
Sharyn has travelled most of her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. In her 20’s she went overseas and spent 4 years living, working, playing and travelling through many countries. Her travels inspire her ‘Live Work and Play’ series of working holiday guides and LiveWorkPlayTravel where she shares her knowledge of travel, being a digital nomad and blogging. Sharyn continues to travel and currently calls Melbourne home.