COVID-19 update: Shetland is now reopen to visitors, as per Scottish government guidelines, but please read our guidance on travelling responsibly.

Moving from outside UK

On this page, we've gathered together some advice about the laws and customs that will affect you if you're moving from outside the UK.

Working in Shetland

For general information about finding a job in Shetland, please see the current vacancies page on this website.

Whether or not you can settle and work in Shetland, or elsewhere in the UK, depends largely on where you come from. For example, workers from the European Union are entitled to live and work in the UK. There is helpful information on the UK government’s website, for instance, for people from Commonwealth countries who have UK ancestry.

For a helpful guide to the documents you may need before moving to, or working in, the UK, please visit this page provided by HM Revenue and Customs.

It is possible that you may be able to claim some state benefits, depending on your circumstances. For information about whether or not you qualify, this UK government website is useful. At the moment, the general rule is that if you have come to Scotland and are not working (even if you are from the European Economic Area) you should be able to support yourself without having to claim public funds. However, the European Union is currently challenging the UK government’s rules on the grounds that they are not compatible with European law. For more information see or this page on the DirectGov website.

Everyone who works in the UK needs to have a National Insurance (NI) number. If you already have a job, or are actively looking for employment in Shetland, you will need to apply. You, or your employer, should telephone the Lerwick Jobcentre Plus office (+44 (0)345 604 3719) to arrange an appointment for an interview (contact details below). The interview takes about forty minutes and a National Insurance number will be allocated within three or four weeks. If you need to take someone with you as an interpreter, you can do so, or a telephone interpreter can be provided. There’s more information about National Insurance here.

For certain jobs (or certain kinds of voluntary work), you may need to have a criminal records check. This is carried out by Disclosure Scotland and you need to apply for a certificate. There’s more information here.

Once you have a job, you’ll normally be paid monthly, but some people may be paid every week. Workers in Scotland must be paid at least the legal National Minimum Wage. Income Tax and National Insurance payments will be taken directly from your wages and your employer should give you a statement showing how much you’ve been paid and how much has been deducted. However, not all of your wages are ‘taxable’. Everyone is allowed to earn a certain amount of money before any tax need be paid. There’s more about income tax and national insurance here.

If you are working five days a week, you must be given a minimum of 28 days’ paid holiday. If you work less than five days a week, the amount of holiday will be reduced pro rata, for example 22.4 days for someone working four days a week.

The law protects you from discrimination by employers on grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion or beliefs.

There’s a useful guide to your rights at work here. If you have any difficulty, you may want to contact the Shetland Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Housing in Shetland

We have general information about housing in Shetland elsewhere on this website, so this section concentrates on the main things you need to know if you’re not familiar with the housing market in Scotland and Shetland.

As in other countries, you can either buy a house or rent one.

If you want to buy a house, the main thing to remember is that, in Shetland, houses are almost always bought and sold by solicitors working in legal firms, not by estate agents. Solicitors advertise houses for sale. Mostly, they invite written, sealed bids over a certain price (the Scottish ‘offers over’ system); a surveyor or your solicitor will be able to give you an idea of how much to offer above the asking price. However, some houses are advertised at a fixed price.

  • We must stress, however, that it should not be taken as an authoritative or complete guide to the law. We strongly advise you to check the most up-to-date position with the various government agencies that regulate immigration, employment, taxation and other matters.
  • Another useful source of information is Talent Scotland, which covers important matters such as work permits and the operation of the British tax and national insurance systems.

If you find a house that you want to buy, you should take advice from a solicitor – not the same solicitor who is selling the house. The first step is normally to let the seller’s solicitor know that you’re interested; your own solicitor can do that. That will ensure that you’re kept informed of any developments, for example the setting of a closing date for offers.

Your solicitor will make an offer on your behalf and it will include various conditions, for example to do with the date of entry. If the offer is accepted by the seller, it is binding. Neither you nor the seller can back out, unless there is some condition that cannot be met. For example, your solicitor may have included a condition on your offer requiring that there is a legal right of vehicle access to the property; if the seller cannot demonstrate that, the sale will fall through.

As a property owner, you must pay the local property tax, known as Council Tax. You will also need to make arrangements with an electricity company and perhaps other utility providers, such as a telephone company. You should also ensure that the house and its contents are properly insured.

If you want to rent a house, you can do so from a private landlord (who may rent the house furnished or unfurnished) or from a social housing organisation. As a tenant, you have a right to a written tenancy agreement setting out details of the landlord and explaining the conditions of the tenancy. You should also have an inventory, listing the contents of the house. The landlord must keep the property and its equipment in good repair and give you proper notice if he or she wants you to leave. You’ll normally pay the rent monthly in advance and you will usually have to pay a deposit to cover any damage or to pay bills that are outstanding when you leave. If there is no damage and the bills have all been paid, your deposit will be returned to you. You should insure your personal property against loss or damage. For more advice about renting, you can contact the Shetland Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Education and Lifelong Learning

Elsewhere on our website, you’ll find a general introduction to education in Shetland.

If your first language isn’t English, there are courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages that are organised by Adult Learning Shetland, based at the Old Library Centre on Lower Hillhead, Lerwick. Most of the classes are free and they range from beginner to intermediate level. Adult Learning also offers many other classes ranging from computing to cookery, dance to numeracy. From 5pm to 7pm on Monday evenings, they offer a Welcome Point where you can meet other people who are new to Shetland , practise your English, find information about local services and get help filling in forms. The Shetland Library also offers free internet access.

If you have children aged 3 or 4, they are entitled to 2.5 hours of free pre-school provision each day in the term following their third birthday. Some providers offer longer hours, parents paying the extra cost. There’s more pre-school education here. There are also several parent and toddler groups. You can find out about other childcare options, for example registered childminders, from the Shetland Childcare Partnership.

Children in Scotland usually have to go to school in the August when they are aged between 4 ½ and 5 ½ and attend until they are 16. To enrol children at a school in the area where you live you must contact the school’s head teacher. If you wish to enrol a child outside the area in which you live, contact the Head of Schools. All the contact details you’ll need can be found here.

Driving in Shetland

If you want to drive a car or motorbike, you must be at least 17 years old. You can ride a moped at 16. Large lorries and buses can’t be driven by anyone under 21. In general, you can drive in the UK using your home country’s driving licence for up to a year. You can apply for a UK licence at any time. We recommend that you read this information about driving in the UK on a foreign licence.

By law, any vehicle kept on the road must be insured. The minimum level of insurance is called third party cover. It covers damage or injury to other people or their property. You can add cover for fire damage to, or theft of, your vehicle, or buy comprehensive insurance, which will also pay for damage to your own car or bike.

If you would like to learn to drive, there is some useful guidance here, including information about how to book your theory and practical tests. We also suggest you read this information about choosing a driving instructor. You can search, using your postcode, for your nearest approved driving instructor.

Your vehicle must be kept in a safe condition. For example, there must be enough tread on the tyres and the lights and brakes must work properly. If the vehicle is more than three years old, it must be tested every year and have an MOT (Ministry of Transport) certificate; there’s an exception to this if you use the vehicle only on an island that has no garage offering MOT tests, such as Bressay or Yell, where you don’t need an MOT. If you’re buying a vehicle, bear in mind that the MOT certificate only proves that the vehicle was safe on the day that it was tested; it’s up to you to make sure that it’s still in a safe condition and you might want to have it checked by an expert.

Staying Safe and Legal

We’ve set out some of the things you need to know in order to stay safe in Shetland and to keep on the right side of the law.

  • The emergency number is 999 and you can use it to call the police, an ambulance, the fire and rescue service or the coastguard. All calls are free. The operator will ask you which service or services you need, then connect you.
  • Shetland is generally a safe place to live, but some crime does occur. If you are concerned about your safety, or want to report an incident that’s not an emergency, you can call the Lerwick police station at any time on 01595 692110.
  • Domestic abuse is behaviour that is physically, sexually and/or psychologically abusive and is directed by one partner (or ex partner) against another. It’s never acceptable and the police will always investigate. Help and information is available from Shetland Women’s Aid.
  • To ensure that your home is safe from fire, you can request a free fire safety check. A firefighter will visit your home, offer advice and give you a free smoke alarm.
  • If you commit a crime, you can be arrested and taken to a police station. You will be told about your rights and have the right to speak with a free lawyer who can give you independent legal advice. If your offence is serious and you have to go to court, you will have an interpreter, if you need one, when your case is heard.
  • You are not allowed to carry a knife or (unless you have a firearms certificate) any kind of gun.
  • There are strict rules about alcohol. You cannot buy it in a shop or a bar unless you are at least 18 years old and you may be asked to prove your age.
  • You cannot drink alcohol in public areas in Lerwick. If you are drunk, you may be arrested.
  • There are serious penalties, which can include prison, if you are caught driving while drunk.
  • There are also severe penalties, again possibly including prison, for possession of controlled drugs or driving under the influence of drugs. There’s more information about the law on drugs here.
  • If you have a television or if you watch live TV on a computer or other device, you must have a television licence, money from which pays for all the BBC’s services and may also be used to fund other projects, such as improving broadband. Visit the TV licensing website for more information. If you do not have a licence you may be fined £1000.

Your Health

The National Health Service in Scotland is free to UK residents , apart from charges for dental treatment. If you are a national of a country outside the United Kingdom, you may have to pay some charges, depending on the arrangements between the NHS in Scotland and the health service in your home country. However, some services (such as an emergency ambulance or emergency treatment in a casualty department) are always free. Consultants at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick can carry out many surgical procedures but more specialised treatment is available in Aberdeen or at other Scottish centres when appropriate.

The services provided by NHS Shetland in every part of the islands can be found using this map. You should register with your local Health Centre. For medical advice and treatment, or prescriptions for medicine, you can then make an appointment with your doctor. If you need medical advice when the local Health Centre is closed, you can contact NHS 24 (just dial 111 from any phone), which offers telephone advice and will call out a doctor or ambulance if necessary. You can also obtain advice and non-prescription medicines from any of the pharmacies during normal shopping hours and, on a rota system, on Sundays between 12 noon and 1pm.

All GPs (doctors) in Shetland offer family planning services that are available to all. Emergency contraception is available from GPs, the community nurses on non-doctor islands and the Accident & Emergency Department at the Gilbert Bain Hospital. Contraception is also available directly from your local pharmacy but there will be a cost. Advice on sexual health, including testing, is also available and there is a drop-in clinic at the hospital on Monday evenings.

You should register with a dentist and you can do this by contacting one of the dental surgeries, though you may find that there is a waiting list. In a dental emergency during surgery opening hours, you should phone the surgery and you will be given a time to attend. Out of normal working hours, you should phone NHS 24 on 111.

There are three opticians’ practices located on Commercial Street, Lerwick. In any of them, you can have a free eye test.

There is a list of all pharmacists, NHS dentists and opticians on this web page.

Banking and postal services

The banks are all in Lerwick’s old town centre.

There are several banks to choose from. TSB is on the Esplanade; on Commercial Street, you’ll find Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank, Santander and the Post Office (which is also a bank). Except for the Post Office, all of these have cash machines. There are other cash machines – some of which may charge a fee - elsewhere in Lerwick and in some rural shops.

Shetland’s postal services are generally operated by Royal Mail but some private courier or parcels services also operate in Shetland. There are post office branches throughout Shetland offering a range of services in addition to mail collection and delivery. Visit for more information on banking, paying bills, insurance, exchanging money, buying your television license or paying vehicle tax.

To open a bank account in Scotland, you must make an appointment with an adviser at one of the banks and you must provide proof of your:

  • Identity (for example a passport, national identity card or national driving licence)
  • UK address (for example a tenancy agreement or letter of confirmation from your employer); and
  • Employment
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