I arrived to the UK with my new spouse visa stamped in my passport and came through border control pretty easy. All I had to do was grab my BRP (biometric residence permit) within 10 days of entering the country and I’d be good to go. I grabbed it and I felt home free. I thought that my life could now “start” as a normal adult expat. I could find a job, do adult things like get a debit card and more. That was false.
About five days after receiving my BRP and setting up two job interviews, I found out I needed a National Insurance number. What’s that? Well it’s the equivalent of a social security number in the US. This little number allows you to actually work in the UK because it determines your tax. So the little card you collect and spend thousands on that says work permitted only serves as a small gesture. I mean, it’s more than that but unless you go the extra mile to get a NI number, you can’t really work. What’s surprising is that no one tells you this.
We had hired a lawyer to see us through the spouse visa process and she did not once mention anything about an NI number. It was funny because I had stressed that I wanted to work but I guess it slipped her mind. Any way, the way I found out about this coveted number was when I tried to set up a bank account the day after I arrived in the UK. I had my card and paperwork but in order to set up an account, I had to provide proof of address in the form of a utility bill, council tax bill or bank account details. I had none of these items as I was just in the UK and did not have any history or earnings to even get those documents. So I went back to my old trusty Google and searched on the message boards for a hack.
On a message board, I stumbled across someone talking about a NI number. I dug a little deeper and messaged my lawyer. She was like, yeah you need one to work. Well, thanks a lot for the heads up.”
I then went to the UK gov website to see how I could get one. They said I had to call a number but as it was Friday after 7 pm, the number wouldn’t have anyone on the other end until Monday at 8 AM. I had to wait and hope my number would be with me shortly.
Monday came. I called. The woman at the other end told me I had to make an appointment at a job centre and told me the next available appointment was 3.5 weeks away. I booked it and asked her how soon after the appointment I would get my number. She said 4-6 weeks after that appointment. Wow! So I had to wait 7 weeks to get a number to cement my working capabilities. I also needed to wait for that number so I could open a bank account. Then I could arrange a real cell phone number for the UK and so many other basic adulting things.
Currently, I’m still waiting for my appointment to get my NI number but the number itself should be with me in January of next year. This means I can enjoy the holiday season and look forward to work and everything kicking up in the new year. It’s annoying but it’s life.
So if you are a spouse with a BRP in the UK that says work permitted, it’s not the only thing you need to work, you need to apply for a NI number. Make sure you do that asap! And a note, you can’t apply in advance, only when you’re actually in the UK. FUN.