How to start over in England

I have now officially lived in England for 1 year! I can’t believe how the time has flown from the time I wrote about “My first week in Manchester” A lot of exciting things have happened in this past year, but there have also been very hard times. Today’s blog will be about how to start your life over in England. This has been my experience, things that have worked for me. You are welcome to use it as a guideline and of course make the decision that is best for you.

Getting Started

Getting your Visa

I’m in the UK on a Spousal Visa which lasts for 2 and a half years. This was quite an intense process which involved me doing an English test, going for a TB scan, doing my biometrics, filling in a lot of forms and proving my marital relationship with my husband. There are various Visas and allowances for different people to live here. Choose the one that suits you best. We found a helpful Facebook group that assisted specifically in Spousal Visas. A community that answers your questions and gives you advice on the best options to take.

 As soon as you get your visa you need to fly to England within 1 month. You then pick up your BRP (Biometric Residence Permit) from a post office of your choosing. If you ever leave the country take your passport and BRP card with you otherwise it may be a challenge to get back into England.

Photo by nappy on

Finding Accommodation

We didn’t know anyone in Manchester and on my Visa application we had to fill in where we would live. We used Right Move to find our flat. I know Zoopla is a similar website to look for a place. Most estate agents wanted us to view the place or have someone view it in person. We then asked the agents if we could do a WhatsApp video viewing. Ask all the questions on that video, make sure you like the place because most leases are for 12 months. These days Google Maps help you see where public transport links are, that way you can see if you are in a good spot while you don’t have your own car yet.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

Bank Account

Most banks let you open your account online; they may ask you to come into a branch to show them your proof of address. As soon as you are in the country you will open an account for your water, electricity and council tax. You can use these documents as proof of address to open that account.

National Insurance Number

This number is similar to the South African id number. You can get a job without having one, but your employer will ask you to obtain this number. They use it for your tax, you also need it if you want to apply for a student loan. In order to get this number you need to call and ask for it. More information here

Registering at a GP and getting a NHS number

You never know when you will need to visit the doctor or the surgery as they call it. When applying for your Visa you already paid in advance for IHS (immigration health surcharge) for the period of your visa, so don’t worry you are entitled to go to the GP without extra costs.

Search for surgeries in your area. Look at their Google reviews because once registered you will always go to the same surgery unless you move to a new area. If you found one with good reviews, call them and ask if they take new patients. If they do, go to the surgery and fill out the relevant paperwork. I gave them my IHS number as proof that I have already paid NHS (National Health Service) upfront. They will register you and you will get a NHS number. NHS doesn’t cover everything, there are certain medications and things like contact lenses which you will still need to pay for.

Public Transport and Driving with a South African Licence

There is a fantastic public transport system in Manchester and I’m sure in the rest of the UK too. Familiarise yourself with the tram, train and bus routes, in some cases you can save time especially with a morning tram ride into the city. Car parking is generally quite pricy in the city as well. It will all depend on where you live and work. You can drive with a valid South African licence in the UK for one year, you also have 5 years to swap your South African Licence to a British Licence providing that it has not expired. I am currently in the process of swapping mine.

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on

Mental Health


I thought the one place I will never live will be in the UK or any other cold place for that matter because I’m a total lover of sunshine and warmer weather, but like the saying goes, never say never. Life happened and we went through a very interesting change and we ended up in Manchester. Looking back I can see God’s hand in all the little details. I had to adjust my attitude and choose to find joy from within. I missed the weather in South Africa, in fact I missed a lot of things, still do sometimes. I had to start to focus on what I have right now and not keep looking back. There are so many amazing things about living in England, the weather unfortunately isn’t one of them. Try to surround yourself with people who uplift you, who you can openly speak to.

Photo by Gabriela Palai on

Be Gentle with Yourself

I have had days where I have felt extremely low, the days get dark early in winter by 4pm it gets pitch dark and it’s cold and rainy outside. I like going out, but not in that weather. I generally like to be positive so I was beating myself up trying to get out of this feeling. I tried to push myself to work hard and find a job, to make new friends, to adjust and be at the same level I was when I left Cape Town. It wasn’t possible and I felt like I hurt myself more when things didn’t happen as quickly as I wanted it to. I put a lot of pressure on myself.  I then realised, wait, step back, don’t beat yourself up over everything you can’t control.

Do what you can today, give it your best and then be patient. In the right time it will happen.

Don’t expect everything to work instantly. There are days that I miss my family and friends, there are days that I crave a food item only available in South Africa. It’s okay to have those days, I acknowledge the feeling, call or message that person and add the craving to the Things to buy in SA list.

Don’t compare yourself or try to adjust like someone else did. Some people don’t mind cold weather, some people have family here or have dreamed of living here all their lives. Everyone is in a different boat.

If you have any questions or maybe something to add to this. Please feel free to comment, I would love to hear from you!

6 thoughts on “How to start over in England

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