Repatriating to the UK: Your instant guide (Part 2)
[Estimated time to read: 15 minutes]
Following on from my colleague Julian’s article about the financial aspects of repatriating to the UK, I wanted to follow up and cover the practical aspects of moving lock, stock and barrel back to Britain.
Having been expats for a number of years, my husband and I repatriated earlier this year, and I was almost overwhelmed by the amount of planning and preparation involved.
Therefore, I hope you find the following a help if you, or anyone you know, is planning a return to the UK.
Thanks again to Mr. Palmer for suggesting we cover this theme – and if you have any topics you’d like us to cover, no matter how technical or complex, do just ask.
UK property for expats returning to live in Britain
If you’ve been away from the UK for a lengthy period of time, things may have changed significantly since you last lived in Britain with respect to getting a rental contract or a mortgage.
Renting a property in the UK
Unless you’re lucky enough to know someone who will let you live with them, you’ve retained a property in Britain, or you have friends with a spare house to borrow, the chances are you’ll need to rent somewhere to live when you first arrive back.
Most letting agents require references from previous landlords, and they run a credit check on you prior to allowing you to rent a property.
As an expat you can fall at each of these hurdles.
Having lived abroad you may not have up to date referees, and your credit history may not reflect your current or recent earnings.
If you’re returning to take up employment this can help, as you will be able to show proof of earnings, albeit anticipated earnings, and a contract and reference from your employer.
However, if you’re returning to retire, you’re self-employed or currently unemployed this can make things very difficult for you.
Many letting agents will consider your application favourably if you’re able to pay a lump sum for rent in advance.
This may be one way around any hurdles you face.
Make sure you start sorting out your accommodation well in advance of your return if you can, because these things always take far longer than expected.
Most private rented tenancies are let on an assured short hold basis.
This means your landlord has the right to bring your tenancy to an end after its fixed term.
If the tenancy does not have a fixed term, they are able to bring it to an end after six months.
You will be required to pay a deposit up-front (usually 1 or 2 months’ rent), and it will be sensible to have contents insurance in place.
It can be hard to secure rental accommodation if you have pets – so start searching early if this is the case, as your options will be limited.
It is likely in this instance that you will also pay a pet deposit, on top of your rental deposit.
Buying UK property - Proof of funds
When buying a property, a very important part of the conveyancing process is dedicated to understanding the source of funds from the purchaser.
As an expat or recent repatriate you may be asked for additional proof of where funds are coming from if you’re bringing money in from overseas, and/or your funds were earned or accrued overseas.
Solicitors handing the conveyancing process are guided by the Money Laundering Regulations 2007, which mention the source of funds in two places:
Regulation 8 - Scrutinise transactions undertaken throughout the course of the relationship (including, where necessary, the source of funds) to ensure the transactions are consistent with the relevant person's knowledge of the customer, his business and risk profile.
Regulation 14 - Take adequate measures to establish the source of wealth and source of funds which are involved in the proposed business relationship or occasional transaction.
Furthermore, the Law Society states,
“In many ways, client identification and verification is secondary in anti-money laundering compliance to understanding the source of funds.”
You need to know that cash is not an acceptable option, you’re assumed potentially guilty until you can prove otherwise, that is, the onus is on you to prove your funds are not from the proceeds of crime, and if your solicitor has suspicions about the source of your funds they are obliged by law to report you for suspicion of money laundering.
As long as you can prove the source of funds via wage slips, bank statements, contracts and so on, there should be no problem.
However, be aware that the receiving bank in the UK may also require proof of the source of funds before clearing them, and all this can take time.
Be prepared to answer questions about particular transactions on your bank statements too, especially if they are frequent payments or large transactions.
Don’t leave it until the last minute to address this critical issue, because a delay in the process caused by you could cost you the property of your dreams.
Getting a mortgage
Most of the big name lenders in the UK make getting a mortgage for a repatriating Briton a virtual impossibility.
The first hurdle most returning expats fall at is not having had a UK address in the last three years.
Mainstream lenders carry out a credit score, and without a recent UK address history you probably won’t have enough points and will be declined.
Fortunately there are other lenders out there who credit check instead of credit score and assess cases on an individual basis.
Such a company’s underwriter will look at your credit record to make sure that there is nothing untoward in your financial background, but they won’t care so much about the fact you’ve been living abroad.
Assuming all’s well with your credit check, you have a deposit and can prove you can meet repayments, you should be able to find a lender willing to extend you mortgage credit.
If you’re currently abroad, and you’re planning to return and buy a property within the first year or so of being back, these steps might help you plan, although I appreciate not everyone can take them:
1. Keep a correspondence address in the UK.
This can be your parents’ address or another relatives’ home address, as long as it’s the home of someone you trust, as your mail will be received there.
2. If possible retain a UK current account, as well as a credit card.
Make sure your bank will allow your accounts to remain open if you live overseas.
3. Have a job lined up for when you return.
If you’re staying with the same employer this will make things easier and quicker for you, but if you are moving to a new firm you may have to wait to get a mortgage until you have had at least three to six months with them.
Depending on the mortgage company you’re applying to, some may accept a letter of appointment with a start date and your salary details, as well as your contract and employment references.
4. For anyone returning to be self-employed you’re unlikely to be accepted for a mortgage without at least a year’s worth of audited accounts available; sometimes lenders want to see the last three years’ of accounts.
5. Make sure you have a deposit of at least 25%.
There are lenders who will accept less…but they are few and far between for repatriating Brits.
Whether you buy or rent a home you’ll have to pay council tax.
Most local councils list the amount payable per band, and your letting agent or estate agent should tell you which band your property falls in to.
If you haven’t retained your right to vote whilst living abroad, or you’ve lost your right because you’ve been abroad for more than 15 years, you can register online or, once you’ve relocated and settled in to your new home, via your new local council.
You may need to revisit your insurance coverage for when you return.
Home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, boiler breakdown insurance…the list can seem endless.
If you have insurances in place already, will they all still be valid and appropriate when you return?
In last five years the Law Society has changed the rules on home insurance when buying a new property – namely that the purchaser must have insurance in place before they move into the property.
This can seem odd (what if the current owner burns the property down before you move in?!) but it is nevertheless something to be aware of.
Luckily there are plenty of comparison websites in the UK where you can input your details and requirements for insurance once, and receive multiple quotes.
You can then choose accordingly.
Importing your personal effects and pets
Depending where you’ve been living and how many possessions you’ve acquired, you may be able to return with just a suitcase in your car, or you may be at the other end of the complexity scale and have to have a container shipped around the world and pets flown home.
If you’re likely to return before your furniture and personal effects, pack carefully so you ensure you have the essentials with you as you travel.
Also, plan for living in the UK without all your things for whatever duration it will take for your items to return to UK and get Customs’ clearance.
Moving back to the UK & bringing your personal effects
You will need a valid visa and a declaration form to bring your personal effects into the UK.
As you can imagine, the paperwork and red tape required asks for a long list of all the items being brought in to the country, and it’s all very comprehensive and detailed.
You will have to estimate acquisition dates and current values, and any items that you bought between six to twelve months before moving back to the UK may be subject to VAT charges.
Bear in mind that no liquids or consumables can be brought back via shipping containers, which includes toiletries and even candles.
So if it won't fit in your suitcase, start eating, drinking, cooking, wearing and burning (candles I mean) anything you don’t want to leave behind.
Otherwise your personal belongings should be considered duty-free.
Those with significant effects to move and repatriate will find it much easier to employ an international removal company, or a separate import agent service and removal company.
Both the agent and the international removal company will have the expertise and experience required to help your importation run smoothly.
Fees charged will of course vary massively and depend on the cubic volume of effects to be returned, the size of a container, the place of origin and ultimate destination.
It’s wise to get a few quotes, and to plan well in advance because shipping times can be long.
Tip: You can get a reduction in price if you are willing to share a container with other movers. Ask your relocation company for details.
You will have to pay a fee for the customs clearing agent who looks at your shipping container.
And include copies of your passport and visa for the customs agent too, to ensure that the whole process runs smoothly.
Any delays on arrival at UK customs could be chargeable to you, for storage, and of course your goods may be subject to random checks.
It is possible to import medication, although customs will require all medication to be in its original labelled container with English instructions.
Some medicine, such as controlled drugs, will require a doctor's letter and a personal licence, and the amount allowed in will be restricted.
You will need to ensure that your vehicle meets UK driving and safety standards.
All vehicles must fit the Road Vehicle Regulations 1986 and Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989.
A European Certificate of Conformity is required for vehicles being imported from the EU, as well as a Mutual Recognition Certificate.
A new car will require additional VAT, duty, and tax payments along with a registration once it arrives.
HMRC sets the VAT, and the registration department will determine the vehicle tax to be paid.
For vehicles imported from any country not in the EU, a NOVA form and DVLA registration will be required.
VAT and vehicle tax must also be paid.
Bringing your furry friends home
The rules around live animal importation are fairly easy to understand and navigate.
Having said that, from my own experience, I’d say it’s wise to seek the help of a specialist transportation company to ensure your pets are cared for in transit, and that all required documentation is in place to avoid enforced quarantine on arrival.
In the case of dogs, cats and ferrets (!) this is what the government has to say:
“You can enter or return to the UK with your pet cat, dog or ferret if it:
1. has been micro chipped
2. has a pet passport or third-country official veterinary certificate
3. has been vaccinated against rabies - it will also need a blood test if you’re travelling from an unlisted country
Dogs must also usually have a tapeworm treatment.
Your pet may be put into quarantine for up to 4 months if you don’t follow these rules - or refused entry if you travelled by sea. You’re responsible for any fees or charges.”
Again, may I reiterate that based on stories I’ve heard, it’s prudent to get expert assistance to avoid anything awful from happening to your beloved furry friends.
It’s also worth doing your own checks with different airlines to see how they treat animals in transit, as some have much more favourable reviews than others.
Bear in mind you may need to fly your pets, or all of you if you want to travel together, into a different airport in the UK than you had planned, as not all airports accept animals (Newcastle doesn’t for example) and the costs can vary widely.
Accessing the NHS
If you return to the UK and become unwell before registering with a GP surgery you can of course dial 999 or visit an accident and emergency hospital department if it is indeed an emergency.
Alternatively, call 111, which is the number for medical help and advice.
The NHS is a residency based healthcare system, this means free provision of NHS treatment is based on whether you’re ordinarily resident in the UK or not.
It doesn’t depend on a person’s nationality, their payment of UK taxes or national insurance contributions, owning a property in the UK, or even being registered with a GP or having an NHS number.
Therefore, as a British citizen returning to live in the UK you will be immediately entitled to free NHS care.
You may have read differently elsewhere, but the correct advice is that it is only if you reside exclusively and permanently overseas and are visiting the UK that you may be charged for treatment.
Registering with a doctor
The NHS Choices website allows you to find GP practices near to your new address in the UK via a postcode search.
You can then review the surgeries that come up on the list, and choose one you want to register with.
In most cases, to register you will have to provide proof of ID, complete a medical questionnaire, and perhaps have a basic medical where your height, weight and blood pressure are recorded.
If applicable, ensure you have enough prescription medicine with you when you return to cover any period between arrival and registering with a GP.
It will be hugely helpful to your GP if you can get a summary of any medical care and attention received while living abroad.
Your former medical practitioner may be willing to provide this.
Finally on this point, if you have registered an S1 (a certificate of entitlement to healthcare in another EEA country) you will need to contact the local authorities in that country and inform them of your return to the UK.
You will also need to inform the Department for Work and Pensions Overseas Healthcare Team so they can stop your payment for the S1.
Finding a dentist and Denplan
Depending on how long you’ve been away from the UK you may be unaware of the fact that getting to see an NHS dentist can be extremely difficult, depending on where you live.
Many UK residents now have private dental insurance via Denplan.
Using the NHS Choices website you can search and see if there are any dentists near you offering NHS treatment.
Those that do also often offer private practice as well.
Make sure you clarify what you will be eligible for as an NHS patient before agreeing to any treatment, and your dentist should be able to outline what may be covered, and what you may have to subsidise, as some procedures aren’t offered on the NHS anymore.
If you can take any record of dental treatment carried our while living overseas home with you, that will be a benefit to your new dentist in the UK.
Again, in the event of you needing to see a dentist urgently before you’ve registered with one, dial 111 for assistance.
Coping with reverse culture shock
Many returning expats report feeling disconnected when they return ‘home’ to a country that actually, no longer feels like home.
A lot may have changed in Britain since you left, and it’s not uncommon to find it hard to adjust.
What’s also worth noting is the fact that you will have changed as well.
If you anticipate and accept that you might experience a degree of reverse culture shock, it may well help you adjust to your return more quickly.
Have I forgotten anything?
The good news is most government agencies, councils and service providers in the UK have embraced technology, and every piece of information you’re likely to need is available on the Internet.
That doesn’t detract from the fact you may need expert financial and tax advice to ensure you make the most of any advantages you have before repatriating.
Neither does it take away the sense of anxiety you may be feeling at the thought of starting all over again back in Britain.
I’m sure there are many more subjects I could have covered in this blog, but equally, I don’t want to overwhelm you.
Equally, if you need expert tax advice, we can make recommendations for you. Don't forget to see part 1 of repatriating to the UK, to help with all your tax and investment questions.
Good luck with everything.
And if you have suggestions and tips of your own to add, please use the comments section below.
Thanks again to Mr. Palmer for this suggestion.