Are you considering a career in nursing in the UK? If so, you’re not alone, as thousands of nurses from all over the world relocate to the UK to work in healthcare. The UK is home to the NHS which is consistently rated as the best healthcare system in the world, as well as many private hospitals and clinics offering cutting-edge treatments – an appealing way to continue and progress your nursing career.

Exceptional teams and hospitals with pioneering technology are just some of the reasons why the UK is such an attractive destination for overseas nurses. But, we also understand that relocating to a new country and finding a new job can be daunting, which is why our permanent nursing division is dedicated to supporting overseas nurses make the move. Our specialist team of consultants are dedicated to finding you a permanent nursing position in the UK, covering all specialties and bands, including senior management roles.

Athona is one of the best medical suppliers in the UK, with many Tier 1 agreements in place with NHS Trusts and exclusive contracts with private hospitals and clinics.

Ready to start your UK nursing career?

Check out our latest opportunities for overseas nurses.

What do you need?

To work in the UK as a registered nurse you must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which regulates all nurses and midwives in the UK.

The NMC sets out the professional standards and behaviours that must be followed by all nurses and midwives in a document called The Code. It’s available to read and download on the NMC website.

The steps to obtain your NMC registration is dependent on where you obtained your training qualification. In the following sections, find out more about how to become a nurse in the UK.

Don’t forget, if you’re based outside the EU you will also need a UK work permit.

Begin an application to the NMC for the recognition of your qualification and registration online. After you complete and return your application form along with the required documents, you must follow the next three stages:

  1. Your qualifications will need to be assessed to ensure that they are recognised and accepted within the UK
  2. To ensure you can communication effectively, your English language capabilities will be assessed in one of two NMC-approved English language tests – International English Language Test System (IELTS) or Occupational English Test (OET)
  3. Apply for entry to the register and  when it’s accepted you’ll receive your NMC PIN which enables you to work in the UK

Note that if you’ve completed your training in English, you are not required to take the IELTS or OET exams.

In the past, nurses had to work for 12 months after achieving their qualification, but this has now been lifted meaning that you can apply for NMC registration immediately after qualifying.

The application process is as follows:

  1. Complete the online self-assessment which will confirm your eligibility. This will include providing information on your health, qualifications and character
  2. You will need to prove that you’re able to communicate effectively in English. There are two tests that are accepted as evidence – the International English Language Test System (IELTS) and the Occupational English Test (OET).
  3. Once you’ve passed this, you’ll need to prove that you’re competent as a nurse. The first stage of this is a computer based test (CBT) which covers your theoretical knowledge. It’s a multiple choice test and can be competed at a test centre in your home country.
  4. When you pass the CBT you’ll need to provide the NMC with supporting documents for your application.
  5. The second part of proving your competence, is the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). This exam can only be completed in the UK at an approved university test centre, who you will need to contact directly to book your test. Your clinical knowledge and ability will be assessed through a practical exam.
  6. An ID check will take place when you arrive for your OSCE exam, so don’t forget to bring along all of your original documents that you uploaded for your application.
  7. Finally, once you’ve passed each stage of the application process, you’ll complete your final declaration and make the final payment before you’re issued with your registration number – this is your NMC Pin.

Before you can apply for NMC registration, you’ll need to prove that you can communicate in English. This means your speaking, reading, writing and listening skills will be tested in one of the two NMC-accepted tests; the International English Language Test System (IELTS) and the Occupational English Test (OET).


The exam typically costs around £160* and you’ll need to take the Academic version of the exam for it to be accepted by the NMC. The IELTS exam is a favoured option for those applying from outside of the EU as the IELTS for UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) counts towards your visa application. An overall score of at least 7, with at least a score of 6.5 in the writing section and at least a 7 in the reading, listening and speaking sections is required, this can be combined over two test sittings.


OET costs around £349* and you will need to achieve at least a B in the writing, reading, listening and speaking sections. You may be able to achieve this across two sittings of the exam if all grades in both sittings are above Grade C+ and you achieve Grade B or higher in all four sections in the results of both sittings when combined.

Passing the English language tests

To help you pass your English language test first time, we’ve partnered with the UK’s leading medical English provider. We are able to offer discounted access to preparation courses which include 1:1 training and online, self-paced courses for IELTS and OET. Simply email to request the discount code. There are four courses that we recommend for nurses, which you can find below. If you’re not sure which is more suitable for you, read SLC’s advice on how to chose the right path for you.

1:1 IELTS training

1:1 OET training

Self-paced IELTS training

Self-paced OET training

*Costs correct as of November 2018.

specialist language courses

Passing the CBT and OSCE is a critical part of becoming a nurse in the UK. The two parts are known as a test of competence to ensure you meet the UK’s high standard of practise.

Part one of the test is the CBT in which you will need to answer more than 100 multiple-choice questions. There are a number of test centres around the world and you can find your closest test centre here.

If you’re successful in the CBT you’ll move on to part two which is the OSCE. This test assesses your clinical abilities and how you interact with patients in scenarios that you would usually encounter in your job as a nurse.

In the timed exam you move through six test stations where you will provide care and demonstrate your nursing skills. Examiners will assess your performance and determine whether you pass the exam.

If you are starting your application after 6th April 2017, you have three attempts to pass the OSCE in your application. After the first failure you must wait 10 days before retaking the exam and after your second failure you must wait a minimum of three months. After a third failure your NMC registration will close and you’ll need to restart the application process.

For full details head over to the NMC website.

If you’re based outside of the EU, EEA and Switzerland, you’ll need a Tier 2 visa which will permit you to work in the UK.

To apply for this type of visa you will need a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) which is provided by your employer in the UK, such as a hospital or Trust. Only licensed sponsors can issue CoS and your recruitment consultant can help you with this so that you can proceed with your Tier 2 visa application. Once you’ve been issued with a CoS you’ll have 90 days to complete your relocation to the UK, so it’s important to work closely with your recruitment consultant so that all documentation can be collected.

Once you’ve received your CoS you can start your application for a Tier 2 visa online. Nursing is on the shortage occupation list, which means that the cost for your visa is reduced to £464. In addition to this, you may need to pay an immigration health surcharge (IHS) which gives you access to the NHS in the same way as UK citizens. The cost of the IHS is £400 per year of the visa for each applicant. Visas are usually issued around three weeks after you submit your application.

Remember to speak to your dedicated recruitment consultant to find out which costs apply to you.

Whether you’re in Europe or anywhere else in the world, we can help you find your dream position in the UK.

We’re able to support you on every step of your journey, including:

  • Secure a relocation package
  • Jobs across all specialised departments and at all levels
  • Support with your IELTS/OET exam including a discount on training courses
  • Friendly and patient support throughout your NMC application
  • Advice on Visa applications and sponsorship
  • Support with orientation and relocation to the UK
  • Meet and greet at the airport; we’ll even organise your onward transport
  • We’ll continue to support you until you’re fully settled in

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Thinking of hiring international medical professionals?

We offer bespoke recruitment packages to our clients, visit our client area to find out more.