Moving to Northern Ireland Guide
Moving to another country is a big decision if you’re thinking of taking the leap, here is some practical advice to help.
- Section 1
- Section 2
- Section 3
- Section 4
- Section 5
- Section 6
Moving to NI
Returning/Moving with a Family Member/Spouse/Partner
If you are coming home/moving to Northern Ireland with your:
- spouse or partner
- fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner
- relative who’ll provide long-term care for you
You should check their immigration status and any visa requirements before you arrive.
Find out more about applying for Visa and Immigration on the GOV.UK website
There are different ways they could apply for citizenship based on their circumstances.
Find out about applying for citizenship on the GOV.UK website
Returning/Moving with children born outside the UK
You may be able to apply for your child (under 18 years of age) to be registered as a British citizen if you’re a British citizen but your child was born or adopted outside the UK.
The application must be received when your child is under 18.
Find out more about applying for citizenship for your child on the GOV.UK website
If you are returning with children tell the school authorities in the country that you are currently in that you leaving. Before you return/move to Northern Ireland, you can contact the relevant education authority office about school places.
Settled status for EU citizens and their families
If you’re a European Union (EU) citizen living in the UK, you and your family can apply for ‘settled status’ if you want to continue living here after June 2021. You will not need to apply if you’re an Irish citizen or have indefinite leave to remain, but any family members from outside the UK and Ireland will.
Getting settled status means you can continue to live and work in the UK for as long as you like. It will mean you’re eligible for:
• public services, such as healthcare and schools
• public funds and pensions
• British citizenship, if you meet the requirements
The deadline for applying will be 30 June 2021.
Find out more about applying for settled status on the GOV.UK website
Exchanging your foreign driving licence
If you have a foreign driving licence and you want to change to a Northern Ireland licence, there are conditions that need to be met.
Find out more about exchanging your foreign driving licence on nidirect.gov.uk
Beware of unofficial websites offering online driver licensing. You cannot apply for a Northern Ireland driving licence online.
You can change your driving licence for a NI driving licence, by completing form DL1 which is available from the Post Office or MOT test centres. You will need to enclose original paperwork confirming your identity, a passport-style colour photograph and proof of residency.
Car Insurance - Driving record abroad
Not all insurers recognise foreign no claims discount (NCD). If you are returning home you may be asked for proof of your NCD from your overseas insurers. Before you return home you should ask your insurer for proof which should:
• Be in English
• Be on official company headed paper
• Be in the main driver’s name
• Show the vehicle details
• Confirm the number of years the NCD was built up over
• Show the date the policy expired
Bringing your car or motorcycle to NI
If you are moving your car or motorcycle into the UK permanently you must:
1. Tell HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) within 14 days that the vehicle has arrived in the UK.
2. Pay VAT and duty if HMRC tells you to.
3. Get vehicle approval to show your vehicle meets safety and environmental standards.
4. Register and tax the vehicle with DVLA - they’ll give you a registration number so you can get number plates made up.
Alternatively, you can pay an importer or shipping company look after this for you.
You must have vehicle insurance before you drive on UK roads. You can be prosecuted if you use your vehicle on a public road before you complete these steps unless you’re driving it to a pre-booked MOT or vehicle approval test.
You can move your vehicle freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland if it’s registered in either country.
Find out more about importing your vehicle to the UK on the GOV.UK website
Moving with Pets
If you’re moving with your pet dog, cat or ferret, the rules you must follow depend on the country you’re coming from.
Find out about the rules on moving with pets on the daera-ni.gov.uk website
Find advice about moving with your dog
Pet Approved Routes
Northern Ireland does not have any pet approved routes. All pet animals travelling here must enter the UK through a pet approved route via Great Britain (GB) or the Republic of Ireland (RoI). When the pet has been cleared in GB or RoI the pet is free to travel onward to NI.
On arrival, if you don’t have the correct documents or your pet hasn’t been properly prepared it will be licenced into quarantine until it fully meets the entry requirements or sent back to the country it travelled from. You will be responsible for the costs of this.
Guide dogs and assistance dogs
Assistance dogs must meet the requirements of the Pet Travel Scheme or may be subject to quarantine on arrival into NI.
Moving your personal belongings
When you move your personal belongings home to Northern Ireland from abroad you have tax and customs responsibilities. You don’t usually pay tax or ‘duty’ (customs charges) on personal belongings you move to the NI from the European Union (EU).
You may be able to claim relief on tax and duty if you’re moving from outside the EU - ask your shipping company for more information. If you don’t qualify for relief your shipping company will tell you how much duty or tax you owe. You must pay it before you can collect your things.
Find out more about moving your personal belongings on the GOV.UK website
Registering with a Doctor
Local doctors, also known as general practitioners (GPs), look after the health of people in their local community and deal with a whole range of health problems. There are over 350 GP Practices throughout Northern Ireland. If your GP can't deal with a problem, usually they'll refer you to a hospital for tests, treatment or to see a consultant with specialist knowledge.
People who are ordinarily resident in the UK, including people from other EEA countries and abroad, have the right to be registered with a GP. You can choose which GP you want to be registered with, parents are responsible for registering children under 16.
You should contact the surgery you want to register with and ask if they will take you on. If they agree, they will ask you to fill in a registration form. Some GP practices also want to see proof of your identity, like a passport, and proof of your address, like a utility bill.
Registering to Vote
You can register to vote in Northern Ireland if you are:
• a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen, or a citizen of a Member State of the European Union
• 17 or over (note - you are only eligible to vote when you are 18 or over)
You can now register to vote online - you will need your National Insurance number.
Register to vote online on the GOV.UK website
Download an application form from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland website
Electoral Identity Card
If you register to vote you can get a free Electoral Identity Card which is widely accepted as proof of identity for domestic travel and opening a bank account.
Tax, benefits and National Insurance
If you come back to Northern Ireland after living abroad:
•Tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) when you will be coming back and find out about your tax liability on returning to the UK
Find out about your tax liability if you return to the UK on the GOV.UK website
•Check with the country you are living in about any tax you may owe before you leave.
•For National Insurance contributions, contact the HMRC National Insurance Contributions Office
Find out about national insurance contributions on the GOV.UK website
•Get in touch with your local Social Security / Jobs & Benefits office, about your pension and benefits giving them details of your return move and your contact details abroad and in the UK.
Find your nearest Social Security / Jobs & Benefits office on the nidirect website
Lost your national insurance number
If you can’t find your number you contact the National Insurance numbers helpline and answer some questions you may also need to fill in a form.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) won’t tell you your National Insurance number over the phone. They’ll post it to you and it will arrive within 10 working days. N.B HMRC no longer issues National Insurance plastic cards.
Find out how to get your National Insurance Number on the GOV.UK website
Moving to the UK to work - Apply for a national insurance number
A national insurance number is your own unique personal account number which is used to record your National Insurance and Tax contributions, it also acts as a reference number when communicating with the HMRC. You pay National Insurance Contributions if you are an employee and you’re aged 16 or over.
You must have the right to work or study in the UK to get a National Insurance Number. If you have applied for a residence permit you may already have been allocated a National Insurance Number it will be printed on the back of your biometric residence permit (BRP). If you don’t have a National Insurance Number you must apply once you’re in the UK. You can start work before your National Insurance number arrives if you can prove you can work in the UK. You should tell your employer that you’ve applied for one, and give it to them when you have it.
Jobcentre Plus may write to you and ask you to come to an interview where you’ll be asked about your circumstances and why you need a National Insurance number. The letter will also tell you which documents to bring to prove your identity.
Find out how to apply for a National Insurance Number on the GOV.UK website
Setting up a bank account
When you want to open an account with a bank or building society, you will be asked to provide evidence of your identity and confirmation of your address:
•Proof of identity (for example, a passport or driving licence).
•Proof of address (for example, a recent utility or phone bill).
If you don’t have any of the above, speak to the bank about alternative documents you might be able to use. Bring original statements from your overseas account showing your address there and utility bills. Bank’s like to link these things due to money laundering regulations.
Before you move investigate if there is a bank which has branches in the country you are currently in and also in Northern Ireland. If you can open an account overseas with your current ID docs, it’s easier to then transfer it to the UK.
If you register to vote you can get a free Electoral Identity Card which is widely accepted as proof of identity for domestic travel and opening a bank account.
Find out more about how to open bank account on the GOV.UK website
You can get advice and information about pensions and benefits if you have lived abroad by contacting the International Pensions Centre.
Find out how to contact the International Pension Centre on the GOV.UK website
Finding a job
If you are thinking about moving home/moving to Northern Ireland and need to find a job there are a number of options:
Ask for a transfer
If you work for a company that has a presence in Northern Ireland ask if you can transfer it could be the easiest way of moving home.
Recruitment Agencies / Employment Agencies
Send your CV to recruitment agencies, they may want to interview you before you are taken onto the books. Recruitment consultants will then work to match you with the vacancies they have. If you are suitable you will be shortlisted and put forward for an interview.
Many local companies post on online employment sites for example:
Starting a Business
Moving home and starting a new business could be an option. There is plenty of advice available and you can get help with planning, training courses, and funding.
Read guidance on starting your own business on the indirect website
My New Business Guide
Take a look around to get inspired by others, learn about business and develop a big idea. Find the right support, advice and inspiration for your future business.
Read the my new business guide on the nibusinessinfo.co.uk website
Recognition of Qualifications
If you want to ensure that any qualifications you or your family have received while living away are recognised you can contact NARIC for a Statement of Comparability.
A Statement of Comparability is a document that can be used in support of your international qualifications. It guides universities, colleges, employers and professional bodies on how your qualifications (including professional qualifications) relate to UK qualifications and certificates. It is not a compulsory document, but it can be specifically requested by employers. In general, the document can be of great help when applying for work or study in the UK.
Find out how to apply for a statement of comparability on the naric.org.uk website
Property prices in Northern Ireland remain well below other locations in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The latest Northern Ireland house price index is reported quarterly by Land and Property Services.
Read the latest house price index report on the finance-ni.gov.uk website
If you are searching for a house you can register with an estate agent there are also a number of websites which advertise property available for sale:
Some internet research can give you a better idea of what you should expect to pay for a particular type of home in specific areas.
There is a wide range of private rental properties available in Northern Ireland. Make sure you know what type of property you need and think about the area you would like to live in. Some internet research can give you a better idea of how much rent you should expect to pay for a particular type of home in specific areas.
As well as estate agents there are also a number of websites which advertise property available to rent:
Registered housing associations are social housing landlords. They provide rented accommodation to people who are eligible for social housing in Northern Ireland.
Find out more about social housing on the nidirect website
Childcare and education
Northern Ireland’s education system is considered one of the best in Europe and consistently outperforms all other UK regions at GCSE and A-level qualifications 77% of high school graduates go onto further and higher education.
You know your child best and know what kind of childcare will suit them and meet your family's needs. There are many types of childcare and all - except nursery schools and nannies - must be registered with Social Services.
Find registered and approved childcare providers in your area on the Family Support NI website.
Children between the ages of four and 16 are entitled to a free school place. Children normally start primary school at four years and leave at the age of 11, moving on to a post-primary school.
The Education Authority (EA) manages the procedures for the enrolment of children in:
• Pre-school (age 2-4 years),
• Primary school (age 4-11 years)
• Post-primary school (age 11-18 years).
Pre-school education is available to every child in Northern Ireland but it's not compulsory. If you want your child to have pre-school education, you need to apply for a place.
Funded pre-school education places are provided in:
• nursery schools
• primary schools with nursery units
• voluntary and private pre-school education settings with government-funded places
All pre-school education settings follow the same Curricular Guidance for Pre-school Education.
Find out more about the Curricular Guidance for Pre-school Education on the Education Authority website
Find out more about applying for a pre-school place for your child on the Education Authority website
All children who are 4 years old on or before the 1st of July must begin their primary education from the beginning of the school year following their 4th birthday.
If your child is eligible for primary school, you must apply for their place. They aren’t guaranteed a place in a particular school so it’s important to apply as early as possible.
Before you send your child's application to a school, you should read the school's admissions criteria. If a school gets more applications than their available places, the Board of Governors will apply their published admissions criteria to decide which children get offered places.
Applying for a primary school place before you move to Northern Ireland
You can make an application for a primary place if you are currently still living outside of Northern Ireland. However, priority is given to children residing in Northern Ireland at the time of their proposed admission.
Read the requirements set out in the school(s) admissions criteria. This can differ from school to school so it is important to read the admissions criteria for all schools to which application is made.
If you are moving to Northern Ireland, when completing the application, you must use the address you are residing at the time of the completion of your application. Boards of Governors can only use a new address once your child is residing at the new address. You should notify the EA in writing when you have moved, you will be asked to provide verification of your move.
Applying for a school place after you move to Northern Ireland
When you arrive in Northern Ireland contact the Education Authority to find out more information about applying for a primary school place.
Find out more about applying for a primary school place for your child on the Education Authority Website
Children who have completed year 7 in primary school move on the Post-Primary School usually at age 11.
Transferring to a post-primary school
Parents and guardians of children in year seven at primary school apply for their child’s post-primary place. They fill in the Transfer form and must list at least four schools, including a non-grammar school. Your child isn't guaranteed a place at a particular type of post-primary school.
Choosing a School
To help with your choice of school you can ask post-primary schools for their prospectus and if they have an open day or night. At school open events, you can learn more about a school and meet the staff and the principal. Schools usually advertise their open events in local newspapers.
You can find out how many places are available at each school and learn more about admissions criteria they use if the school receives more applications than places they have available.
Filling in your child’s Transfer application
Before you list a school on the Transfer application, read the school’s admission criteria. You should make sure you understand what’s needed by the schools you list. You’re responsible for giving accurate and relevant information on the Transfer Form. This allows the schools you listed to consider your child’s application.
Information schools might want
On the Transfer application, a post-primary school can ask if your child:
- has any brothers or sisters at the school you’re applying to
- is the eldest child, only child or eldest boy or girl in the family
- is registered as entitled to free school meals
Applying for Grammar School in Northern Ireland
Most Grammar Schools in Northern Ireland require children to take a Transfer Test as part of their admissions process. There are two different transfer tests, they are commonly known as the AQE and the GL.
Which test(s) your child sits depends on which grammar schools your child wants to apply to. Some grammar schools accept either test but most use one or the other. N.B. Some Grammar schools select some of their intake using non-academic selection. Also, some schools may have specific admission requirements so please visit their website for additional information.
If you are applying for a post-primary school place you may be able to claim special provisions. Special provisions apply to:
- Pupils whose parents wish them to transfer from schools outside Northern Ireland;
- Pupils who have received more than half their primary education outside Northern Ireland.
More about the Transfer Test
The AQE's test is called the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA) is set and marked by AQE Ltd in Belfast. This test is commonly referred to as the AQE. The AQE is mostly used by the state (non-denominational) grammar schools.
- There are 3 assessment papers.
- Children may sit two or all three papers: in the latter case, the best two scores will count.
- Almost all children sit all 3 papers to give them the best chance of a higher score.
- There is a fee to register for the assessment.
- AQE scores use a standardised age score with 100 as the mean (average) score.
The PPTC's test is called the GL Assessment is set and marked by GL Assessment Ltd. in England. This test commonly referred to as the GL. The GL Assessment is mostly used by the Catholic maintained grammar schools.
- There are two assessment papers.
- One is an English paper and the other is a Maths paper.
- Both papers are multiple-choice format.
- Both papers are taken on the same day.
- There is no fee to register the assessment
- GL scores use a standardised age score ranging from 69 to 141 with 100 as the mean (average) score.
Home to School Transport
Whilst the primary responsibility for getting children to and from school rests with parents; transport assistance is available for some children to facilitate their attendance at school.
Northern Ireland offers an excellent choice of boarding schools, each with a rich history of academic achievement and personal progression. There is a choice of all boys, all girls or co-ed as well as a city or a rural setting.
Northern Ireland’s boarding schools also have a commitment to delivering an extensive extra-curricular provision to help personal development in addition to a high quality of education.
Find out more about Northern Ireland boarding schools on the Boarding NI website
Northern Ireland has a network of 7 colleges delivering a range of vocational education and training, including foundation degrees and a new modern apprenticeship programme.
• Northern Regional College
• South Regional College
• North West Regional College
• South West College
Northern Ireland has two world-ranked universities - Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. They have around 45,000 students enrolled, with students from over 100 countries represented including China, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the US.
Both universities offering a broad range of courses across the arts, humanities, social sciences, medicine, business, computing, film & journalism, health & life sciences, engineering, and physical sciences.
• Queen's University Belfast
• Ulster University
The Open University
The Open University offers flexible part-time study, supported distance and open learning for undergraduate and postgraduate courses and qualifications. Uniquely placed to understand the needs of part-time students, combining their learning while earning, the Open University has seen over 2 million students receive an education, otherwise denied to them at campus-based universities.
Transport and Travel
There are five commercial ports in Northern Ireland:
Translink Northern Ireland Railways operates scheduled rail services in Northern Ireland serving the following routes:
• Belfast to Bangor
• Belfast to Larne Harbour
• Belfast to Coleraine to Londonderry
• Belfast to Portadown to Newry
All lines offer a combination of express services and trains that stop at each halt and station, with up to seven trains operating per hour at peak times on key commuter lines.
The flagship cross-border Enterprise Service links Belfast and Dublin by rail and is jointly operated between Translink NI Railways and Iarnród Éireann.
There is a variety of ticket options available, depending on when and where you want to travel and how flexible you can be.
Find out more about train services available in Northern Ireland on the Translink website
Translink is the main provider of public transport in Northern Ireland. It operates the majority of bus services, which are listed below:
- Goldline is the express coach service that runs between towns and cities, including a number of cross-border services
- Ulsterbus serves other towns and villages across Northern Ireland, as well as services to and from Belfast
- Metro and Glider services that run in and around Belfast
Park & Ride
If you are planning on commuting to work Park & Ride could be a hassel-free option. Park &Ride sites are located close to public transport links, such as a train station or a bus stop. The car parking is free and the bus/rail fares are cheaper than city centre parking.
There are approx. 50 Park & Ride locations across Northern Ireland.
Find your nearest Park & Ride on the Translink website.
Park and Share
If you are car sharing, there are dedicated 'Park and Share' car parks at key road junctions throughout Northern Ireland. These act as meeting points for sharers. Some of the sites serve a dual purpose where motorists can Park and Share with other motorists or can Park and Ride on public transport.
Find your nearest Park and Share on the nidirect website
Cycle to Work Scheme
Cycling is a great option for the daily commute to work as it can be cheaper, healthier and also save you time.
The Cycle to Work Scheme is an incentive created by HM Revenue and Customs to promote greater use of the bicycle as a sustainable mode of transport to encourage healthier journeys and reduce environmental pollution. It provides a tax-break that enables employers to provide bicycles for their employees to cycle all or part of their journey to work.
Find out more about the cycle to work scheme on the nidirect website