Whether it’s the bright lights of London, the glorious Scottish countryside or the chance to work in one of the most developed finance and accountancy industries in the world, the UK attracts thousands of people every year who are looking to continue and progress their career. Accountancy in the UK can often seem complex and gaining your first job almost an impossible challenge. What we aim to do in this article is give some real world advice on gaining an accountancy job in the UK when coming from overseas.
The UK like most countries has a fairly complex visa system which allows people to work and live here. In order to secure a job in the UK you will be required to have a right to work which is dependent on the type of visa that you hold. There are numerous types of visa available more information on these can be found on the government’s website: https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration/work-visas
If you are not eligible to obtain a visa yourself certain businesses are able to sponsor your visa. This can be a very challenging route however as the majority of employers in the UK are not able to provide visa sponsorship and will only do so for hard to find and niche positions. Additionally you will be tied to that business until you are able to apply for your own visa (generally 3 years).
In addition to a visa you will also require a national insurance number which can be obtained from your local Jobcentre Plus or online at https://www.gov.uk/apply-national-insurance-number
Location, Location, Location
Many people coming to the UK already have an idea of where they are going to live, although others are just drawn to the UK as a whole and head straight to London by default. Whilst London is a global city with a huge array of businesses and opportunities, it is not always the easiest place to find work or to live. Higher costs of living mean that often the amazing salaries on paper don’t allow for the luxury lifestyle people first imagine and often end up with lengthy commutes across the city.
When considering a move to the UK if you don’t have any specific location in mind it is certainly worth considering other options and thinking about what is important. Many other UK cities offer just as much variety and opportunity as London, and whilst headline salaries might not be the same, these are often in line with local costs of living and can often afford a better quality of living compared to the rat race of the capital.
So you’ve got your right to work and you know where you’re going to live. The next key element to consider when thinking of accountancy positions are your qualifications. In the UK the accountancy profession is regulated, to a degree, by various membership organisations which fall under CCAB (https://www.ccab.org.uk/) and CIMA ( https://www.cimaglobal.com/) these organisations set the standard by which all qualified accountants must adhere.
Whilst it is possible to secure a position without one of these qualifications it can certainly prove to be more challenging and salaries are generally lower without them. If you have qualified as an accountant within your home nation it might be worth checking to see if your qualification can be transferred over to one recognised in the UK. The ICAEW operate a reciprocal recognition program (https://www.icaew.com/membership/becoming-a-member/members-of-other-bodies) with several accountancy bodies globally so it would be worth checking to see if you are able to transfer across, this gives you the benefit of a UK recognised qualification and will help to put you on a more even footing with your UK counterparts. If you are not able to transfer your qualification it would be worth looking into gaining a UK recognised one, several of them offer exemptions given prior experience and could help you rapidly achieve qualified status.
When applying for jobs it is important to have a Curriculum Vitae (CV) that stands out from the crowd and highlights your skills and attributes that potential employers and recruiters are looking for. We have a comprehensive guide of writing a CV here, one element that is crucial when applying from overseas is to give an idea of the businesses that you previously worked for. The chances are, that unless you have worked for a household brand, most people outside of that industry or country will not have heard or come across the business so you need to ensure you provide this information. Information such as company turnover, number of employees and geographical reach all help to give some context to your position.
Additionally, it is worth mentioning the accounting standards to which you have previously worked. IFRS, FRS and US GAAP are all common in the UK alongside other more niche elements such as SOX.
Practice VS Industry
When applying for roles or speaking with recruiters this will be a fairly common question, are you looking for practice or industry positions. When people refer to practice in the UK they are referencing public practice accountants such as EY, KPMG, Deloitte, PWC etc, whilst industry is generally everyone else. If you are currently working within an accountancy practice prior to coming the UK it can often represent one of the easier entries into the UK jobs market.
Most large audit firms are eligible sponsors and are more readily able to offer positions to overseas workers than other businesses. Working within a practice environment also offers the benefits of giving you first-hand experience of dealing with UK financial regulations from a more technical standpoint whilst having the support of a large team behind you. Upon completing a year or two within a UK audit firm you would then be able to seek work within industry and would be able to command the same salary as your UK counterpart. If you are keen to avoid working within audit and move straight into an industry position, there are a few things to consider when looking for a new role.
Firstly, would be the type of position and level, unfortunately if you have been a finance director previously you will most likely find it a challenge to go straight into a FD role. Most people find they end up having to take a step back in terms of position and salary for their first UK role. Whilst this is frustrating for many its best to view it as an opportunity to get settled and accustomed to working in the UK before having the added responsibilities of a senior finance role. One option that is worth considering is undertaking a contract position, these roles often have a limited timeframe but generally employers tend to be a little more flexible in whom they employ. This gives you the opportunity to secure a role and prove yourself without being tied in long term to the position.
Using a recruiter
It is a common misconception that using a recruitment agency to apply for a role will cost you money, this however is not the case. In fact, in the UK it is illegal to charge someone for finding them work however some businesses may charge for additional services such as reviewing CV’s. Further details can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/909021/eas-conduct-regulations-guide-for-agencies.pdf
Recruiters and employment agencies can sometimes prove to be an invaluable asset in helping you secure your first position in the UK. They have a detailed understanding of the local market, what employers are looking for and how you might best secure a role. It is worth speaking with several different recruiters as they will work with different clients and have varying levels of experience in that area.
Frequently Asked Questions
If I am outside the UK can I still apply for roles?
Yes, although you will find generally businesses prefer hiring people who are already in the country as there is a reduced risk of the hire falling through due to relocation issues.
It depends who you ask and what type of position you are looking for. Within audit and financial accounting ACA and ACCA are the most common qualifications whilst within industry you tend to find a broad mix although manufacturing still has a slight preference for CIMA. Generally, businesses tend to focus more on someone’s experience rather than which professional qualification they hold.
This varies considerably across the UK as many employers will match their salaries to local costs of living. For a newly qualified accountant in a rural locations and areas which have a lower cost of living you can expect to earn £35,000 – £40,000 per annum and be paying an average of £700 per month to rent 2-bedroom accommodation. In London for example you could expect to earn £50,000 – £55,000 however rental costs for a similar property increase to £1,600 per annum. It is worth also considering the additional benefits offered by employers as well as the headline salary, healthcare, gym membership and pensions can all help to bump up a lower salary.
Generally, yes, depending on the role and the organisation being able to speak multiple languages can certainly be a benefit, however you will need to have a good level of spoken and written English.
There are several reasons why you might not be getting a response. Sometimes if you are applying from overseas, the applicant tracking system may have an automatic filter to remove overseas applications, if the business is not considering these. Using a UK email address can often get around this. It maybe that the organisation has been inundated with applicants and are not able to get back to everyone due to the sheer number involved. It is best to submit CV’s in word format rather than PDF as a lot of automated systems can struggle with PDF documents.