Moving to the UK: a guide to broadband

Getting online is an essential need when moving to a new country. This guide looks at key considerations for choosing and arranging a broadband setup in the UK. 

moving to any new country is both exciting and pretty stressful too. With so much to sort and arrange, broadband is quite a high priority for assisting your transition.

The choice of internet service providers (ISPs), connection types, speed and price can seem confusing initially but have no fear as it’s actually quite straightforward.

A clear idea of what you need and what you can spend is best to avoid any confusion. Much will come down to your accommodation and residency status.

Checking availability

Where you’ll be living and for how long are big factors regarding broadband.

For illustration, we’ll assume you will be inhabiting a property as a homeowner or rental tenant. It’s also fair to assume you intend to stay long enough to make broadband setup at your location worthwhile.

Presuming the property has no broadband or WiFi included, you will want to research availability. UK broadband coverage is generally good – but big towns and cities will have wider availability than smaller, rural areas.

If you can get online, either via mobile or public internet, start with a postcode checker. Enter the house address postcode into a broadband comparison service to check local availability.   

Finding the right deal

Broadband comparison websites also suggest the best deals you could choose from. They will list providers and similar service types by price.

The UK has several large, national providers that are likely to feature here. They have large customer bases and are generally trusted for good coverage.

Top 5 most popular UK broadband providers (ISPs) by customers:

  • BT, including Plusnet and EE
  • Sky Broadband
  • Virgin Media
  • TalkTalk
  • Vodafone UK

Typically, all these providers expect customers with UK bank accounts to pay monthly via direct debit. Signup is done online and subject to contracts, ranging from 12-24 months.

Some will accept bank transfer (BACS) or credit card payments at a higher tariff. Shell Energy broadband can also be paid via Payzone counters or UK Post Offices.

Fixed-line broadband

Most home broadband in the UK uses a fixed-line. In many cases, this will be a landline telephone using the BT network. Cabling and sockets will already be installed in most properties.

These phone lines support basic ADSL and fibre connections depending on network coverage. 

Another option is Virgin Media, a cable broadband provider that can deliver very fast broadband. Many homes will already have cable sockets.

There are also a growing number of homes with access to Fibre To The Premises (FTTP).

If any of these connections are already in the property you should be able to get the line reactivated. In cases where no line is present, engineer installation will be necessary. 

This can take longer to arrange and will require some drilling, so renters must check with landlords or agents first.

Mobile broadband

A perhaps more flexible alternative to fixed-line broadband is mobile internet.

Multiple networks are available offering 4G and 5G wireless connections for home and beyond. Access is via router, dongle or as a SIM-only option if preferred. 

Another benefit is that leading providers often have a high-street shop. Here you can speak with sales staff for Vodafone, EE, Three or O2 and seek helpful advice.

Most importantly, you should seek assurances on network coverage. Will you get a strong fast signal where you live?

What speed should I get?

Speed is arguably the most important consideration when shopping for broadband. 

We all want as many Megabytes per second (Mbps) for the lowest price possible. Most likely you’ll be best served by fibre-optic broadband service, but deciding what you need will be based on expected usage.

Think carefully about what you need the Internet for; if you watch lots of streaming HD video or play online games, then higher download/upload speeds are essential.

Similarly, the number of users or devices will have an impact. More bandwidth will stop network “bottlenecks” when lots of people are sharing the connection.

Broadband Bundles

The leading UK providers prefer to sell broadband as part of entertainment bundles.

Sky, BT and Virgin Media offer premium TV deals that provide access to hundreds of channels. Customers are given web-enabled set-top boxes to stream and record live TV broadcasts or buy on-demand services.

However, these bundles can be more expensive than you really need. Instead, you can get lots of content for very little cost using Freeview, the country’s free-to-air service that everyone can watch with a TV license.  

A license is only needed for watching live broadcasts or to view any content on BBC iPlayer. If you only intend to stream prerecorded video (from any service other than iPlayer), no TV license is required.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a license just to own a TV!

How long does it take to set up broadband?

Typically you should expect to wait 14 working days for a new fixed-line setup.

If a line already exists in the property, then this might be quicker, while brand new installations are likely to take longer. Speak with the ISP to book a convenient time for an engineer to complete the work and hopefully activate same day.

Mobile broadband can usually be used as soon as you have received a SIM card for an active account.

Lastly, whichever connection type you choose – good luck with your UK move!