How to get a national insurance number and emergency tax codes – UK immigrant nuisances

expat life

December 26th, 2011 : The day I officially, indefinitely moved to England, with two suitcases and a spousal visa in my passport.

March 2012: I got a job, and started teaching at a language college in Brighton. I was put on an “emergency tax rate”, due to my lack of national insurance number and (lack of) previous work history in the UK.

March 12th, 2013: The day, nearly a year later, when I finally received a princely sum in the form of a refund check deposited to my bank account due to all the money I was owed from being on an emergency tax rate for my whole first year of work.

So how can you avoid this high-level of new-immigrant shenanigans? Let me see if I can help…

First off-are you a new immigrant to England? Super awesome! Welcome to the party! But don’t expect the government to give you much information-no welcome packets, unfortunately. You, and only you, are in charge for a lot of the documents and important bits and pieces that need to be puzzled over when making a new life in the United Kingdom. The sooner you figure them out and cross the tees/dot the i’s, the better.

Some important bits to the immigrant puzzle are as follows. The first two things ended up giving me the most trouble, and they both had the most direct effect on my every day, professional life. I managed to muddle through it all eventually, but hopefully this little guide helps you do it in an expedited manner. First things first…

National Insurance Number- Apply for this immediately! When I moved here nearly a year and a half ago, I was under the impression that a) I would be sent a national insurance number in the mail, and b) I could only get a national insurance number once I was employed somewhere. Neither of these things were true. And it strangely, took me a long time to figure that out. But really, do this as soon as you get settled in the UK. All you need to do is call up Job Centre Plus (Tel 0845 600 0643) to make arrangements. I personally called the Job Centre, was sent a packet that arrived the following week, filled out said packet and sent it back, then received a letter in the mail a few weeks later that included my national insurance number. Easy!-once I figured out that my job wasn’t applying for it for me. More information to be found here :

Getting the (right) Tax Code When I became employed, my boss registered me with HMRC and, having never worked in the UK before, I was put on something known as an “emergency tax code“. This basically means that I was being taxed at a sort of stop gap rate, working at that until the appropriate rate could be configured. I was unaware though, that I would have a part in the configuring. Take note-you will STAY on the emergency tax rate until and unless you call the HMRC and tell them where you work, thereby enabling them to analyse your information and put you in the correct bracket. After you get in touch with them, they will then call your employer, and you’ll get a rebate for the money you paid while working under the (higher taxed) emergency rate.

(I’ll take this chance to explain the English tax system in brief. Everyone is allowed a personal allowance of tax-free earnings per year of £9440. After that, a person is taxed 20% if they earn up to ~£42,000 per year. Earnings from £42k to £150k are taxed at 30%. And the final tax bracket is taxed at 45% for all annual earnings over £150k . My American friends, I can hear you shaking your heads now! But this is the system and I’ve got to say-it works in a lot of ways (not that I’m any expert on matters of economics, so I’ll spare you the lecture). I’m okay with it, is what I’m saying. I LOOOOVE everything it pays for, so…high fives all around. ) More information can be found here

Registering with a doctors surgeryWhat with the NHS and subsequently the massive number of doctors’ offices all over England (known as “doctor’s surgeries” even when it’s just a regular check-in kinda place with little-to-no surgeries performed there) you can’t go willy-nilly to any doctor around! When you move to the UK, even before you have a national insurance number or anything else, you can register with your local surgery, taking only a piece of documentation showing your name and address. This is really a highlight for me, as an American, coming into a place where it was easier for me to go get a full check up at the doctor, with a low-cost prescription, than it was for me to find my way onto the grid, with a job. What a relief, honestly.


There you go! These are the few things that caused me the most trouble-I’ve only had my national insurance number since November-eleven months after I moved- and, as stated above, my tax code was just changed last month. Guh. It’s been a longer road for me, but relatively painless when it got down to it. And hopefully this will help you-the new immigrant!


So how about you? What do you wish you’d known when moving to the UK? Did you have an easy transition, relatively speaking?

2 thoughts on “How to get a national insurance number and emergency tax codes – UK immigrant nuisances”

  1. Hi Ashley,

    Good blog! … Just in addition to the above, the tax laws have just changed – in the last week, in fact. Employers must now send updates to HMRC in ‘real-time’ as opposed to a minimum of once a year.

    Obviously, when companies only had to submit once a year it could lead to people being in a similar position as you (although some larger organisations with the HR resources have always done regular updates to HMRC), whereby HMRC don’t get an update for months, so you’re always being charged emergency tax. Under the new law, if you were new to working in the UK, you would be put on an emergency tax code, but then your employer would have to update HMRC after a month to show your monthly earnings – you should then hopefully be taken off emergency tax.

    Hopefully this wil mean that people new to employment or new to the country will no longer be stuck on emergency tax for months on end.

    Feel free to check out my emigration blog over at


    1. Hi Steve,

      Well that’s good news! I definitely think the new HMRC rules are good news for immigrants such as myself. It would have been nice to have been taken off that emergency code after a month rather than after a year!

      Thanks for contributing!


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