How to work as a UK nurse from overseas [2024]

Work as a UK nurse. NHS flag hanging from a wall

Registered nurses are in high demand in the United Kingdom and are currently on the Shortage Occupations List. Nurses (2231) are needed in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the National Health Service (NHS) hiring from overseas to close the skills shortage gap. Once you are registered and can work as a UK nurse from overseas, there is nursing jobs in the UK with visa sponsorship in 2024.

Why work as a UK nurse from overseas?

The National Health Service (NHS) is the largest employer in the UK with over 1 million healthcare professionals, many of which are recruited international nurses. The problem the UK faces like many countries around the world, it is not training enough nurses and are expected to have an estimated shortage of 140,000 by 2030. The benefit for international nurses that come to the UK, is that this opens up many career development paths such as management and beyond.

Latest figures for the Health and Care Worker visa show the top nationalities in 2023, although not all arrivals came to work as a UK nurse, it gives us an insight on where UK healthcare professionals apply from. Indian nationals made up the most of new arrivals in 2023 with over 38,866 an increase of 76% on 2022. Nigerian nationals were second highest on 26,715 and Zimbabweans on 21,130. Overall, there was 143,990 health care professionals who arrived on this visa in 2023. These 3 nationalities together contributed around 60% alone.

NMC UK registration for overseas nurses

To work as a UK nurse, you must register with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC). The application process can be completed online where you follow a step by step process. This includes tasks such as uploading documents, paying a fee and taking exams. There is only 1 national register in the UK so you can work in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The registration process is separate from your visa application which you should apply for after your visa has been accepted.

The total cost of registering with the NMC is around £1,300 as of January 2024, this includes registration fees and sitting all exams. You should give yourselves around 6 months to register and pass all tests before applying for your visa.

Nursing visas UK

If you are an overseas nurse seeking employment opportunities in the UK, the Health and Care Worker visa is the most popular. Although, there are other UK work permits for nurses available depending on your personal circumstances.

NHS nurses in the UK

Health and Care Worker

The most common visa for working as an international nurse in the UK is the Health and Care Worker visa. The visa is designed for healthcare professionals and offers advantageous terms compared to other work visas.

Requirements include that your occupation must be on the Shortage Occupations List and you must obtain job sponsorship from overseas from an approved employer, such as the NHS. Other eligibility factors include your salary must meet the minimum threshold for that occupation and you must pass the IELTS English language test.

The application fee for this visa in 2024 is £284 for up to three years, or £551 for more than three years to a maximum of five years. After this time, you can apply for this visa again or apply to settle in the UK through “indefinite leave to remain”.

An advantage of the Health and Care Worker visa is that you are exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). This includes your dependants such as partner and children.

UK Ancestry Visa

The UK Ancestry visa is a route that is available to nurses who are Commonwealth citizens and have at least one grandparent born in the UK. 56 countries are currently Commonwealth members who represent a population of over 2.5 billion people across all continents.

Requirements for the UK Ancestry visa do not include job sponsorship, meaning you can move to the UK before you obtain a nursing job. This is a great advantage as you can apply from the UK allowing employers to interview you face to face.

The application fee for this visa is £637 and allows you to live and work in the UK for five years. After this time, you can apply for this visa again or apply to settle in the UK through “indefinite leave to remain”.

You will have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for the UK ancestry visa, which is currently £1,035. If you are applying for a 2-year visa you will have to pay £1,035 each year, therefore you will have to pay a total of £2,070.

British National Overseas Visa (Hong Kong)

The British National Overseas visa, known informally as the Hong Kong visa, is a popular non sponsorship pathway for Hongkongers. More than 120,000 Hong Kong nationals have moved to the UK on this visa since it was created in 2021.

To be eligible for this visa you must be a citizen of Hong Kong who registered as a British national before July 1997. You are allowed to add immediate family members to this visa which allows you to stay for up to five years. After this time, you can apply to settle in the UK through “indefinite leave to remain”.

The cost for the British National Overseas visa is £180 for two years and six months, or £250 for five years. You will have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for the UK ancestry visa, which is currently £1,035. If you are applying for a 5-year visa you will have to pay £1,035 each year, therefore you will have to pay a total of £5,175.

Graduate Visa

Already studying nursing in the UK for a nursing degree? The Graduate visa is a popular way for students to remain in the UK after they have graduated. This visa is sometimes known as a Post-Study Work visa or PSW UK visa.

To be eligible you must have recently graduated from an UK eligible university with at least a bachelors degree. You must still live in the UK and the course at least 12 months long.

The application fee for the Graduate visa is £822 and allows you to live and work in the UK without job sponsorship. You can stay for up to two years after a bachelors degrees or three years with a PHD or doctoral degree.

Youth Mobility Scheme (Working Holiday Visa)

The Youth Mobility Scheme otherwise known as a Working Holiday is a great opportunity to live and work in the UK as a young person. The visa lasts for two years and allows you to work for employers that one day may sponsor you.

Requirements for the Youth Mobility Scheme include being from an eligible country and being aged between 18-30. Although from January 31 2024, some nationalities age limits will be increased to 18-35.

The application fee is £298 and you must have at least £2,530 in your bank account as savings.

India Young Professionals Scheme

The India Young Professionals Scheme is a new scheme that was introduced in 2023, it allows young Indian graduates to live and work in the UK. The visa lasts for two years and allows you to work for potential employers who might pay for a longer term work visa to keep you.

To be eligible, you must be an Indian national who has graduated with a bachelors degree and be aged between 18-30. You must not have been in the UK before on a Youth Mobility Scheme visa.

The application fee is £259 and you must have at least £2,530 of savings as proof of funds in your bank account. You can only apply for this scheme once. Afterwards, you will have to switch on to another visa such as the Skilled Worker visa.

How to apply for a nursing job in the UK?

Finding a job as a nurse in the UK is similar to any other occupation, although a role within the National Health Service you have to apply directly. Finding a job in the NHS can be a relatively simple process, but it helps to be flexible with your job role and which region of the UK you want to work in. The NHS Careers website is the best place to find vacant job roles, you will have to create a profile before applying for jobs.

If you need visa sponsorship for your nursing role, you must earn at least £20,960. Although, average salaries for nurses in the UK is much higher. This applies to all four countries of the UK, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We do not recommend using agencies.

Career path when you work as a UK nurse

Entry level graduates or overseas applicants will most likely enter the NHS as a Band 5 nurse, this is to gain experience working in a British hospital. As of April 2023, the starting salary for a nurse in band 5 is £27,055 in England & Wales, after 4 years this increases to £32,934. In Scotland, the starting salary is £28,384 in which after 4 years increases to £30,329. This does not include extra pay for working unsociable hours such as weekends and night shifts.

You will also be entitled to a minimum of 27 paid holidays per year alongside 8 bank holidays, if you work a bank holiday you will be entitled to extra pay. Maternity with the NHS includes 2 months full pay guaranteed, 7 months of at least half pay and an option for another 3 months unpaid without effecting your career.

Documentation for your UK nursing visa

Documentation will vary depending on the nursing work visa you have chosen and your personal circumstances.

Certificate of Sponsorship

If you applied for a visa that requires you to be sponsored by an employer such as the NHS, you will need a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). The Health and Care Worker visa requires CoS.

A Certificate of Sponsorship is a document and reference number that proves you are eligible for the chosen visa, which is created by the employer. You then use this document when you are applying for your work visa. The certificate is valid for three months after acceptance.

IELTS Certificate

Depending on your nursing work visa for the UK, you may have to sit a IELTS or SELT exam. Passing this exam will prove that you can speak, read, write and understand English to the required standard. Check our our IELTS planning page for more information.

If you are a citizen of any of the below nations, you are exempt from proving your English language requirement. Students are also exempt if you achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher in an English taught course.

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

Can I bring my family?

All popular UK nursing visas currently allow family members to join the main applicant in the UK, they are known as “dependants”. You don’t have to be a permanent resident or have an Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK to bring your family members. The cost for each dependant is £1846 as of January 2024.

Dependants over 18 can work full time in any profession throughout with no restrictions. The length of time allowed to stay is the same as the main applicants work visa.

Can nursing lead to British citizenship?

Yes, the first step to becoming a British citizen is being granted a visa that contributes towards the 5 year requirement for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)

There are 3 main stages to being granted British citizenship.

  • Live and Work in the UK for 5 years on a work visa
  • Apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)
  • Apply for Naturalisation/British citizenship

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