Contract work in the UK – a guide for non-residents

If you’re a non-UK national or expat and want to spend some time living and working here, contract work could be the way to accomplish your goals. This is especially true if you work in the engineering, IT, healthcare or creative industries, which have reported skill gaps in several important areas.

Why you might want to work in the UK

  • Broaden your vocational skills
  • Access to facilities and markets not available in your home country, especially if you have a technical background and work in IT, telecoms, engineering, oil or gas/energy.
  • Higher standard of living and ability to send savings home
NOTE: The impact of Brexit has yet to make itself known for overseas contractors and expats so bear in mind that all information written here is subject to change and that you should engage the counsel of a good immigration lawyer before making any major life changes.

In order to successfully navigate the UK’s immigration laws you will need:

  • Substantial savings
  • Sponsorship from a supportive UK national/institution
  • A valid visa.


There are two main Visas that could grant you access to the UK: Tier 1 (high value) worker visa or Tier 2 (general) skilled worker visa.

Tier 1
If your contracting business is already established or you’re sitting on a great idea, you could qualify under the entrepreneur, graduate entrepreneur or investment strands.

  • Entrepreneur visa
    If you want to run a business in the UK, you must have access to £50,000 in investment funds to qualify for this visa, plus application fees of around £1,000 (they vary depending on your location) and healthcare surcharges. The application and healthcare fees must also be paid for each family member you wish to bring over. With this visa, you can stay up to a maximum of 3 years and 4 months but you can apply for extensions and then an indefinite leave to remain after 5 years.
  • Graduate entrepreneur visa
    If you’re a graduate who’s been endorsed by either the Department for International Trade or an authorised UK higher education institution, you can apply for a graduate entrepreneur visa. Your application will be around £360 per person and you will also have to pay health surcharges for each family member coming with you. This visa allows you to stay in the UK for 1 year but you can’t apply for leave to remain afterwards.
  • Investment visa
    If you have £2 million to invest in the UK, you can apply for this visa, under the same fee structure as the entrepreneur visa.

Tier 2 visa

This is the most commonly applied-for visa. You can apply if you’ve been offered a secure contract in the UK and you live outside European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.

For this type of visa you need to have an licensed sponsor.

If you’re applying for up to 3 years, you will be paying application fees that can range from £600 to over £1,000, depending on your location and method of application. You will need to pay identical fees for each family member you wish to bring with you.

Healthcare surcharge
This will apply to you no matter what visa you apply for (although there are exceptions) and breaks down as follows:

Student visa: £150 per year
All other visas: £200 per year

Finding your niche
The best way to secure a visa is to run a business that fills a skills gap in the UK marketplace.

You can take a look at the UK skills shortage list  to work out if your contracting work is especially in demand. If it’s not, then you might want to consider refocusing/retraining so that you stand a better chance of securing a sponsor.

Keep checking the list as shortages do change and fluctuate. It’s also a good idea to make a habit of reading the financial section of British news so that you have a clear idea of market trends in your industry.

As always, make sure you consult your immigration advisor for the most up-to-date information and expertise. Good luck – we’ll be excited to welcome you!