How to Get an NI Number in the UK: A Guide for Non-Residents

If you’re looking to work in the UK then you’ll need to apply for a National Insurance number. But what exactly is National Insurance, and how do you actually get an NI number? 

To save you from information overload, we’ve boiled down the essential facts for you right here. So let’s delve further into all things NI.

What is a National Insurance Number?

With roots going right back to 1911, National Insurance – commonly called NI – is essentially a tax on earnings. Establishing a consistent NI payment record will let you build up your entitlement to benefits like the State Pension, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Maternity Allowance.

NI contributions have to be paid by anyone who is over 16 and one of the following:

  • An employee whose earnings exceed a certain threshold amount per week
  • A self-employed person whose profits exceed a certain threshold amount per year

These threshold amounts can change from year to year. That means it’s well worth checking what the current thresholds are so you can get an idea of what you’ll be liable to pay. 

In order to make NI contributions, you’ll need your own, unique National Insurance number (NI Number) which you keep for life. Consisting of a string of letters and numbers, it’s automatically given to every UK resident just before they turn 16. If you’re moving to the UK from another country and need an NI number, you’ll have to apply for one. 

How to Apply for a National Insurance Number

Due to disruptions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s currently only possible to apply for an NI number in England, Wales and Scotland if you have entered the UK on a visa. The pandemic’s impact also means you cannot currently apply for an NI number in Northern Ireland. Don’t worry though, you can still legally work in the UK in the meantime, as we’ll discuss in a moment.

  1. If you’re applying for your NI number in England, Wales or Scotland, you can ring the National Insurance Number application line at 0800 141 2075, which is open from Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm. 
  2. After making this call, you’ll be sent an application form to fill out and send back, along with documents proving your identity and that you have the right to work in the UK. The exact documents required will be specified in the application form.
  3. After that, it’s just a matter of sitting tight and being patient. It will take weeks or even months before the process is completed and you receive a letter confirming your NI number.  

Can I Start Working Without My NI Number?

The good news is you can actually start earning a living before you’ve received your NI number. You just have to be able to prove you have a right to work in the UK, for example by showing your biometric residence permit or passport.

Some employers may not be aware of this, and mistakenly insist that you must have an NI number to start working. If you run into problems like this, you can point them in the direction of the official government webpage which confirms this is not the case.

What About Companies Offering Online NI Number Application Services?

Anyone googling “National Insurance number” may stumble across third-party companies which offer to somehow help you get your NI number. They may even imply they provide a faster, easier path to getting the number.

The fact is, these are independent companies unaffiliated with the UK government, charging money for something you can do yourself for free. So we highly recommend steering clear of such companies and applying directly using the National Insurance number application line

How Much are National Insurance Contributions?

If you’re an employee, you’ll pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions, which are automatically deducted from your weekly or monthly wages. The amount is a percentage of how much you’re earning. As we talked about above, you’re only required to pay NI contributions if you earn above a certain set threshold. 

If you earn below this threshold, you won’t have to pay NI contributions, and the government will still award you NI credits as if you have paid. This means you can still eventually qualify for benefits like the full State Pension. Just bear in mind that there is a second, “Lower Earnings Limit” threshold. If you earn below this amount, you won’t have to pay NI contributions but you also won’t be given NI credits.

Self-employed? In this case, you’ll pay “Class 2” National Insurance contributions if your profits go over a minimum threshold, and “Class 4” National Insurance contributions if they go over a second, higher threshold.

If you do get gaps in your NI record from not making contributions because you were unemployed or earning below the minimum threshold, you can always make up for this later with voluntary contributions. 

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