Guide to Contracting in the UK From Overseas

Between 30% and 40% of workers are aiming to start a new job in 2022. Whether it’s a new challenge, better career prospects or a more rewarding role, contractors will increasingly look abroad for new working opportunities to explore. 

Generate’s payroll and contractor management specialists reveal everything you need to know about becoming a contractor in the United Kingdom.

How to Become a Contractor in the UK: Visas, Tax, Job Opportunities & Working Life

1. Starting Out: Obtaining the Right to Work

Whilst the UK’s departure from the European Union no longer means EU citizens have the same freedom of movement in Britain, European citizens and individuals from all over the world can work in the UK by using the right processes.

Some individuals still have the automatic right to work in the UK, such as:

  • British and Irish citizens, including dual nationals with dual citizenship in Britain or Ireland (you could be counted as a British citizen if you have a British parent or were born in Britain or certain British territories).
  • Individuals who before the Brexit deadline applied for and received pre-settled or settled status from the EU Settlement Scheme, and those who have applied and are currently awaiting a decision.
  • People with a family permit from the EU Settlement Scheme (which you can apply for if you have a family member who is a citizen of Britain, Northern Ireland, the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein). 
  • People who have already received indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK, or the right of abode in the UK.

Those without the right to live and work in the UK will need to obtain a work permit and employment visa; if you are employed rather than self-employed, your employer must apply on your behalf. The documents can take up to three months to get the stamp of approval, so ensure your application is submitted well in advance of the date you want to move. For those who are self-employed, the type of visa you need will depend on your situation and the type of work you want to pursue:

  • Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) Visa – Given to senior specialists across the fields of science, humanities, engineering, medicine, technology, and the arts, which is valid for five years.
  • Tier 1 (Investor) Visa – For those committed to investing at least £2million GBP in the UK. This option is valid for three years and can be extended for another two years.
  • Innovator Visa – For experienced, established businesspeople with viable and scalable business ideas. This option requires an endorsement letter for a business or idea, approved by an endorsing body, and is valid for three years.
  • Start-Up Visa – This enables those aiming to start a business to work in the UK for two years, provided they can support themselves financially throughout this time.
  • Permitted Paid Engagement Visa – For those seeking short-term paid work without sponsorship for one month or less.

Find out more about which employment visa you need and where to apply.

2. Understanding Tax and Becoming Legally Compliant

Tax in the UK can be more complicated for overseas contractors. In 2021 changes to the IR35 off-payroll legislation were extended to the private sector. These changes mean additional administration is required for contractors to remain compliant with the law, and for many thousands of contractors, means that those deemed ‘inside IR35’ must pay the same tax as an employee.

In addition to the financial, time and resource burdens, both UK and international contractors are likely to encounter confusion and frustration when determining their IR35 status. Whether you’re inside or outside IR35 depends on a large variety of factors, including your relationship with your end client, the equipment you use and where, when and how you work, and can be easily miscalculated. The wrong status determination risks a lengthy court case and significant fine.

To ensure you’re doing everything above board and protected at all times – and save many hours of stress and effort – contractors can decide to operate through an umbrella company or payroll partner. This option means you will effectively become an ‘employee’ of the umbrella company, who will take care of your taxes, pension, national insurance and all contributions, leaving you free to focus on your work. Use an umbrella company that specialises in international payroll to ensure the best protection and peace of mind.

3. Job Opportunities

In the UK, contractors can work for both the private sector and the government. Although skills shortages are growing rapidly across many areas of the globe, Britain is experiencing urgent shortages of professionals across industries, presenting ideal opportunities for skilled contractors. The UK’s Official Shortage Occupation List encompasses multiple career paths where contractors can qualify for a Skilled Worker Visa and enjoy a range of employment choices. The list includes:

  • Health Services – Nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants, public healthcare managers
  • Social Care – Domiciliary care managers, senior care workers, support workers, social workers
  • Engineering – Electrics, electronics, chemical, mechanical, civil, quality control, design and development
  • IT & Technology – Software developers, business analysts, systems architects, programmers and web designers

To apply for a contracting role in the UK, self-employed professionals can reach out to companies directly, register with recruitment agencies in their field or sign up to job boards with daily alerts of new opportunities advertised. The most popular job boards in Britain include:

4. Working Style & Living Opportunities to Enjoy

Britain can provide both a rewarding place to work and an enjoyable place for individuals and families to live. Some of the best reasons to work in the UK include:

  • Diverse Culture – The United Kingdom, and its large cities in particular, boast some of the world’s widest ranges of cultures, groups of people and experiences. With around 1 in 7 of the British population having been born abroad, and 300 languages spoken in London alone, people from all corners of the world are represented.
  • Flexibility of Work – The UK’s ‘gig economy’ has more than doubled in the past five years, and flexible hours, part-time employment and ‘side hustles’ are on the rise: however much or little you want to work, the option will exist for you. Remote and hybrid working are on the increase, and employers are becoming more accepting of different arrangements such as job sharing for working parents and flexible schedules.
  • Working Environment – Discrimination at work is illegal in the UK, and diversity and equality are valued highly across industries and sectors: employees and the self-employed are protected from ill treatment at work, no matter their role or responsibilities. Although employees and self-employed individuals work hard, they also value their colleagues and enjoy catching up at their desks and socialising outside of work.
  • History & Experiences – The nation’s history spans millennia and hundreds of significant events that changed the world and the way we live in it, meaning a huge variety of castles, churches, palaces and locations of interest to explore. Britain also has a wealth of museums, art galleries, theatres, theme parks and indoor and outdoor events – there’s something for everyone all year round.

Start Your UK Contracting Career the Right Way

Generate have over 90 in-country solutions for contractors working across the world. Find out more about our payroll services.

Discover the Most Common Contractor Challenges and Solutions for 2022.


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