In recently blogging about visa implications for living and working in the UK if you’re an expat moving to London, it brought to mind the requirements for those who are intending to stay in the UK for good (or at least long-term). I’m friends with a lot of North American expats who have been living here a few years, so visas tend to be a frequent topic of discussion when it gets to the point that someone’s visa is expiring or they’ve nearly been in the country long enough to think about citizenship. Every expat’s story of what brings them here and will or won’t keep them here is different, but if you’re researching moving to London and thinking about making it a permanent move, this post is for you.

Moving to London – Indefinite Leave to Remain

I mentioned the other day how I’m here on a 5-year visa, though a typical Tier 2 visa these days is usually for 3 before you can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR); it may vary depending on your company’s sponsorship. In the case of a spouse or partner of a UK citizen or permanent resident, the visa term is only 2 years before you can then apply for ILR. Applying for this status basically gives you permanent residency; you aren’t a British citizen, but you can reside in the UK for as long as you want if, after moving to London and living here a few years, you’ve realized you quite fancy it and want to settle in a while!

Eligibility for ILR does vary by visa classification, so check out http://www.visabureau.com/uk/residency.aspx to determine your particular requirements. If you do qualify, apply, and earn ILR status, be mindful that residing outside of the UK for 2 or more years afterward could lead to it being revoked (unless you attain citizenship by then).

Moving to London – Life in the UK Test

Applying for ILR requires that you be knowledgable about life in the UK, so you will need to take the aptly named “Life in the UK” test. This is a 24-question, computer-based exam that only takes 45 minutes to complete at one of the 100 test centers available in the country. To study, you’ll need to fork over £10 for the 2nd edition of the Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship textbook. The test itself presently costs £34 and is also a requirement of (but does not need to be taken again for) British citizenship.

Moving to London – British Citizenship

Once you’ve been approved for ILR status, you’re possibly only a year away from citizenship if you so desire. This of course doesn’t mean renouncing your current citizenship (although some Americans will do just that to avoid paying U.S. taxes in addition to those in the UK). If you were born to a British mother between 1961 and 1983, you might be able to apply for citizenship right away. Otherwise, you need to have lived in the UK for at least 5 years (3 if married to a citizen), the last year of which having had ILR. You can’t have been outside the UK more than 450 days in those 5 years (270 in the 3 years if married to a citizen) nor more than 90 days in the 12 months prior to applying.

I realize this may be a ways away for those of you researching your initial international relocation to the UK, but, like I said, this is a common subject of conversation among expats over here, particularly those raising children here and needing to decide whether to stay until children are school-age and educate them here or return home. At least you have the facts before you as you make your short and long-term plans—regardless of whether you stay or leave the UK, first moving to London is a grand adventure that will make you a citizen of the world!