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10 top tips for expats going contracting in the UK

Expatriate (expat) contractors who are citizens of countries outside the UK and European Union and are thinking of starting a contracting career in the UK can benefit from ten top tips on how to maximise their chances of a successful start.

An important lesson is that it is not the best contractors who get the best contracts, but those contractors who are best at winning contracts who do so. Understanding market demand for particular skills, identifying contract opportunities and ruthlessly converting opportunities into high paying contracts are the hallmarks of the successful contractor.

Top ten tips for first-time expats going contracting in the UK:

1. Right to live and work in the UK

Contractors who are citizens of countries outside the UK and European Union should check to see whether they need a visa, and what kind of visa is required for them to live and work in the UK. If necessary, particularly now they’re not able to come in under the Tier 1 (General) category, they may need to engage the services of a professional immigration adviser and secure a sponsor and contract before coming to the UK.

2. Skills capability and market demand for skills

Expat contractors may ask themselves the question, ‘Am I good enough to go contracting?’, and the answer is invariably yes, because there are contract opportunities to suit the skills of virtually everyone. Contracts don’t need gurus to fulfil them; they need skilled, professional and flexible contractors who can hit the ground running and achieve the tasks required. Whatever their sector or skills, expat contractors can check the UK market demand for their skill set before choosing the UK as their contracting destination.

3. Type of work

Contractors choose what kind of work they do because they select the contracts that appeal to them and then negotiate what they will do as part of each contract. And if they are asked to do boring and tedious tasks, because they are not an employee, they can reasonably and legitimately say no.

4. Contract search

If entering under a Tier 2 (General) skilled worker's visa, expat contractors must have a sponsor and secure a contract before coming to the UK. Those entering under a Tier 1 high-value migrant visa will have time to decide the direction in which they want to take their contracting career.

5. Winning contracts through good sales and marketing

Expat contractors should never underestimate the importance of a professional sales approach to contracting – it means the difference between success and failure, or between earning a reasonable amount and earning a great amount! Good sales and marketing minimises the gap between contracts and ensures that the contractor stays in work, even during lean times.

6. A high impact CV and faultless interview technique

A high impact, ‘killer’ CV is a key contributor to winning the best contracts and always having work when it is wanted. A proper contractor’s CV, targeted at a specific contract opportunity, will get the contractor interviews with the client. During interviews, contractors with a faultless interview technique will be the ones who win contracts.

7. Careful negotiating and understanding contracts

Negotiating rates and contracts is a key skill for contractors, as is knowing when to ask for expert assistance from a legal professional. Contractors should know what they are worth before they start negotiating with agents and clients. They should also have their contracts reviewed by legal professionals for IR35 implications, and to ensure the contractual terms are favourable.

8. Starting trading on the first contract

Once an expat contractor has won their first contract, the client will usually want them to start as soon as possible, which means having a trading vehicle in place to finalise the contract with and to start getting paid. Most contractors will start off with either a limited company or umbrella company, depending on their personal circumstances and preference. Some contractors may choose another trading solution, such as a partnership or offshore solution.

9. IR35

In order that they maximise revenues and take full advantage of the tax efficiency opportunities of being a contractor, expat contractors should ensure they understand how UK tax works and how IR35 might apply to them. Having a basic knowledge of IR35 is essential, as is knowing when to take specialist professional advice.

10. Enjoy the lifestyle!

Above all, a UK contracting career should be enjoyable. Contractors have put aside all the baggage that comes with being an employee, such as the internal politics, games and disappointments. They also get to choose the contracts that are of interest to them, and this often puts contractors at the cutting edge of their sectors.

Contractors often take advantage of the flexible lifestyle to take long holidays planned around contracts, or to enjoy more time with friends and family. They can also use the higher earnings to invest in financial products and assets to provide an alternative income stream for early or semi-retirement.

Contracting in the UK can and should be both lucrative and fun, and expat contractors may use the resources on this website and in the Contractors’ Handbook to maximise the opportunities a UK contracting career can bring.

Updated: 05 March 2012

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