By IELTS Expert

18 January 2023 - 11:07

A nurse stand in front of a hospital, smiling at the camera

In this article, we explain why working as a nurse in the UK for the NHS is a great career move, and how you can make it happen. 

Would you like to join an organisation that ranks among the ten largest employers in the world, provides care for millions of people each month, and employs people from over 200 different countries? 

The National Health Service (NHS) is undoubtedly the backbone of the UK society. This was perhaps never more evident than during the surge of Covid-19 cases in early 2020. 

As staff across the NHS battled hard to contain the spread of the virus, the entire nation looked on in open admiration. When the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS was launched, millions of Britons stood on their doorsteps and applauded enthusiastically. This simple but powerful act let people express their immense gratitude to health workers across the UK risking everything to save lives. 

The NHS is also a truly inclusive organisation, employing a diverse range of amazing individuals. With around 1.4 million people on the payroll, it is the largest employer in the UK and Europe, so there are always job vacancies that need filling.

Learn more about working in the UK

Benefits of working as a nurse for the NHS

If you choose to work as a nurse in the UK, you can enjoy a rewarding career that offers several benefits. 

Competitive salary 

Nurses employed by the National Health Service receive banded salaries based on the ‘agenda for change’ pay scale. This grading and pay system take into account skills, abilities, responsibilities, level of expertise of the role and years of experience. 

An NHS nurse’s salary typically starts at the bottom of band five. As of November 2022, the pay points within this band range from £27,055 to £32,934 per year. 

On gaining further qualifications and experience in the field, your NHS nursing salary can go up to band nine. At band nine, the pay is pretty impressive – around £100,000 a year.  

Job security

In recent years, the UK has witnessed an increase in its people living longer, largely due to better healthcare and advances in medicine. If the NHS is to continue providing world-class healthcare, it could only mean one thing – a greater need for qualified nurses. 

Also, every year a proportion of nurses either retire or quit the profession altogether. Every single one of them will have to be replaced. If you become an NHS nurse in the UK means you’ll gain job security as there will always be nursing jobs available with the NHS.


If you wish to strike the perfect balance between work and personal life, an NHS job would let you do just that. The NHS understands that working for them shouldn’t mean nurses having to sacrifice family life, socialising, or interests. Making flexible working a reality helps the organisation recruit and retain top talent. 

Besides, flexible working goes a long way towards reducing absenteeism, as adequate rest between shifts is a must, especially given the demanding nature of the work nurses do. Some of the flexible working options available to NHS nurses include part-time working, flexitime, compressed hours, job-share, term-time working, career breaks and working from home.

Leave entitlement 

The NHS is an organisation that has to provide care all year round, so nurses work on a rota basis. When they begin employment, full-time NHS nursing staff are entitled to 27 days paid leave, plus eight bank holidays, every year. Their leave entitlement increases as the length of service increases. On completing 10 years, nurses are entitled to 33 days paid leave, plus eight bank holidays.   

Career progression

Working for the NHS is ideal for ambitious individuals. Those who begin as registered nurses can move up into more senior roles within healthcare settings, provided they are willing to upgrade their skills and knowledge and are able to acquire further qualifications. Examples of senior roles include managers, specialists, consultant nurses and matrons. It is also possible for a registered nurse in the UK to get into teaching or research. 

Professional development 

In order for healthcare professionals to practise safely and legally, and to provide quality care to patients, it is important for them to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. With this in mind, the NHS offers continuous professional development (CPD) opportunities for all staff at every level

By moving to the UK to become as an NHS nurse, you can accelerate your career as staff are always encouraged to participate in various activities that will contribute to their personal and professional development, such as:

  • On-the-job learning
  • Courses and workshops
  • Volunteering
  • E-learning 

All nurses in the UK must undertake CPD every three years to complete their revalidation and renew their registration. Such opportunities are also vital to career progression for those who want to move up the career ladder. 

Other benefits 

Apart from receiving a competitive salary, an NHS nurse is also entitled to other benefits. Of course, these benefits may vary slightly, depending on the NHS trust that employs you. Here are some benefits that you can look forward to as a member of the NHS nursing staff: 

  • Enrolment on the NHS pension scheme, which pays out a generous amount when you retire
  • Opportunities to take time off from work to study for sponsored courses 
  • Extra pay when you work overtime or provide out-of-hours care
  • Support with childcare
  • Access to the NHS discounts platform – many shops, restaurants, gyms and leisure centres offer discounts to NHS staff 

UK nursing registration for international nurses 

NHS jobs are available for international nurses wishing to move to the UK. If you are an international nurse wanting to work as a registered nurse in the UK for the NHS, then you will first have to join the register of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). 

At the time of application, the NMC requires overseas qualified nurses to demonstrate that they are capable of practising safely and effectively in the UK.

Applicants should also provide proof that they have sufficient knowledge of English to work effectively in an English-speaking environment. To register with the NMC and secure a job offer in the UK, you will need the following:  

  • Nursing degree or diploma
  • Nursing licence
  • Six to twelve months of nursing experience
  • Proof of English language proficiency 

Step-by-step guide to becoming an NHS nurse

Nurses trained overseas have to follow a series of steps in order for them to be able to join the National Health Service. As you already know, international nurses wanting to move to the UK to become NHS nurses are expected to be fully qualified nurses. They should have a nursing qualification that has allowed them, or will allow them, to register as a nurse or midwife in the country they trained in. 

Registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the independent regulator for nurses and midwives in the UK, forms a significant part of an international nurse’s journey to become an NHS nurse. Given below are key steps involved in the process of registering as a nurse in the UK. Remember, this process may differ, depending on whether you trained within the European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) or outside of it. 

Step 1: Obtaining proof of English language proficiency 

At present, the NMC accepts only two language tests as evidence of your ability to communicate effectively in English: IELTS and OET. The IELTS Academic test, which reflects aspects of academic language, is ideal for nursing registration purposes. The IELTS test can be taken on paper or on computer – both are accepted by the NMC. To be eligible for NMC registration, you must have an overall IELTS score of at least 7, a minimum of 7 in the Listening, Reading and Speaking sections, and a minimum of 6.5 in the Writing section.

You are also allowed to combine IELTS test scores – i.e. achieve the required mark across two test sittings – provided that you sit the tests within six months of each other and that all scores in both sittings are not below 6.5.  

Step 2: Completing NMC’s eligibility and qualification application 

Before you become an NHS nurse, you’ll need to register with NMC. One of the things you will need to do is create an account on their official website and complete the eligibility and qualification application. While doing so, you will have to provide the following: 

  • personal information
  • details of your passport
  • details of your nursing training, including the title of your qualification and date
  • details of professional registration in the country where you trained

You will also be asked to upload scanned copies of relevant documents.    

Step 3: Passing the Computer Based Test (CBT)

Once the NMC has confirmed your eligibility, you will be asked to take the Test of Competence (ToC). The Test of Competence itself is split into two parts: a computer-delivered test known as the CBT and a practical test known as the OSCE.

The two tests can be taken in any order, but most international nurses first attempt the CBT because the OSCE can be taken only at a designated test centre in the UK. By comparison, CBT test centres are available in most countries around the world.

The CBT contains a numeracy test (consisting of short-answer questions requiring a numerical answer), objective questions, and a theory test (consisting of multiple-choice questions). The test consists of 115 questions, divided into Part A (a 15-mark numeracy assessment) and Part B (a 100-mark theory assessment). All questions are scored as correct or incorrect, so there is no partial credit. Results are generally available within 48 hours of sitting the test.  

Step 4: Securing an NHS job offer

Once you’ve taken the CBT and passed it, your NMC online account will update to show this. In the meantime, you can begin attending job interviews, either online or in person, to secure a job offer from an NHS trust in the UK. Once a job offer is made, your employer is required to run a number of background screening checks to ensure that you are a good fit for the post

Step 5: Obtaining Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from the employer 

The Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is an electronic record, not a physical document, that is assigned to you by the NHS hospital that intends to employ you. It is usually issued once you’ve successfully passed the CBT. The certificate has a unique reference number that contains information about you and the NHS post that you’ve been offered. Without the CoS, you will not be able to apply for your Tier 2 visa.  

Step 6: Applying for a Tier 2 Health and Care Worker visa 

The Health and Care Worker visa category has been designed to encourage healthcare professionals from around the world to move to the UK as a nurse and work there. 

This visa category includes some additional benefits, including fast-tracked entry to the UK, reduced visa fees and exemption from the healthcare surcharge. If you apply for your visa via this route, you can expect a decision on your application within three weeks of providing your biometric information. 

Step 7: Arriving in the UK 

On successfully obtaining your visa, you can travel to the UK to take the OSCE. As well as giving you enough support to pass your OSCEs, the NHS hospital that employs you will also show you what it’s like to work as a nurse in the UK. On your arrival, your NHS trust will offer you considerable support – e.g., free temporary accommodation, provisions, meal vouchers – to help you settle in

Step 8: Passing the Objective Structured Clinical Exam (OSCE) 

The objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) is a practical nursing test that is available only in the UK. It assesses your clinical knowledge based on objective testing through direct observation. 

Unlike traditional clinical tests, the OSCE is designed to evaluate areas most critical to the performance of health care professionals, such as communication skills and the ability to deal with unpredictable patient behaviour. 

During the test, you’ll be required to act out scenarios which you are likely to encounter as a nurse in the UK. Test results are normally emailed to you within five working days.  

Step 9: Completing NMC registration 

On clearing your OSCEs and submitting evidence of health, character, and language, the NMC will review your full application and check all documents. Once your application is approved, you will receive your unique registration code (PIN) to become an NHS nurse.  

IELTS for the UK

If you are considering working for the NHS as a registered nurse, you will have to meet the English language requirements set by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

IELTS, the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration, will help you meet these requirements. There are over 800 official British Council IELTS test locations across the globe, so you’ll always find a test centre that is conveniently located. 

With IELTS, you can choose how you take your test – on paper or on computer. When you book IELTS with the British Council, you will have support every step of the way. For instance, British Council test takers receive a wide range of free IELTS study materials and resources to prepare for their test.  

Final thoughts

Did you know that medicine and dentistry courses are the most employable in the UK? In fact, over 94% of nursing students succeed in getting a job within six months of graduating.

Despite the government’s best efforts, the NHS is still facing a shortage of nurses. Here’s something to put things into perspective: nursing vacancies in NHS trusts in England are at a five-year high – the number stood at around 47,500 in the quarter to September 2022. 

If you are interested in an NHS career other than nursing, you would still find plenty of options. The NHS Jobs website advertises over 25,000 vacancies each month in more than 350 different careers. 

So, if you have the required qualifications and experience, and if you would like to have a job that makes a difference to people’s lives every day, then working as a nurse in the UK is the right move for you.

Next step? Set the ball rolling by demonstrating your English language proficiency.

Learn more about working in the UK