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Finding Pub Work in England

A Barmaid’s Tips for Landing a Job and Living Like a Brit

Village of Panicale
The Watermill Inn, located in the village of Ings, Cumbria, England.

Many Americans dream of moving to England for a while but getting the paperwork necessary for an extended stay can be extremely difficult. The United Kingdom is an expensive place and those without small fortunes will need to find employment by first obtaining a valid work permit.

Work Permits

Unfortunately, individuals cannot apply for a work permit on their own. Only U.K.-based employers can do so on behalf of the overseas national they want to recruit. Before accepting an applicant from outside the European Economic Area an English company has to make sure there isn’t anyone else in the country capable of doing the same job. Thus, an American not only has to find a job but also an employer willing to go through the paperwork and cost of a work permit application. This is a difficult search, especially when conducted from the other side of the Atlantic. The demand to work in England is high and the work permit route can involve months, even years of vain attempts.

The Highly Skilled Migrant Worker Program (HSMP)

The Highly Skilled Migrant Program is the best way for an American to get clearance to work in the U.K. without the aid of a sponsor. This route is suitable for those wishing to immigrate or to stay in the U.K. for several years. Successful applicants must score at least 75 in a point system based on the following categories: qualifications (B.A., Ph.D., etc.), age, past earnings, and U.K. work experience. If permission is granted, the applicant receives a 24-month stay to find work or self-employment. Extensions are possible, and after five years on the HSMP individuals can apply for an indefinite stay. Applications can be made from abroad, and it takes anywhere from six to 16 weeks for a decision. The fee is £315 or roughly $570.


For work permits over six months, a visa is necessary to gain entry into the U.K. You must provide a valid work permit, a letter of recommendation from your employer, and proof that you intend to leave at the end of your permit. Visa applications and information are available.

Off the Radar

Those interested in a “working vacation” in the U.K. should not bother with the above. The quickest way for an American to get across the pond and start earning a wage is pub work. There is absolutely no shortage of pub work in England—even the smallest town has at least three pubs—and it usually pays under the table from £5-£10 per hour (approximately the equivalent of $8-$15), depending on where you work. Many pubs also have accommodations on site for employees to rent. Not only are these jobs easy to come by, they are the best way to meet people and immerse yourself in English culture—no permit necessary.

What is Required

To become a barmaid or barman, you don’t have to be Tom Cruise in Cocktail but you do have to be 18 years old. The typical pub serves mainly beer and liquors mixed with sodas. The British government regulates alcohol quantities so there are official sizes for each glass of wine and pint of beer—though helpful lines on glasses show you how much to pour. The only challenging part is finding the right pub for you.

When I moved to a small Midlands town, I assumed all pubs were the same and took a job at the first one hiring. The managers knew it was my first time ever behind a bar, but on my second shift they left me to run the place on my own and I ended up contending with a belligerent, exceedingly drunk man four times my size. It was a frightening experience and I almost gave up on the idea of pub work until I came across a quiet, traditional pub called the Spittal Brook. Everyone at the pub welcomed the addition of an American thrown into the daily routine. The managers exposed me to the finer points of real ale and rugby, while the clientele taught me all about dry English wit. In a few short weeks, the pub was my extended family away from home and I spent the following six months in England living like a local.

Pub work is still a great option for those considering immigration or an extended stay. While working behind the bar, I got to know government workers, musicians, and judges, and I even received a job offer at a local company. English pubs are an integral part of the community and you never know who you’ll meet—perhaps your future sponsor.

Tips for Your Pub Experience

 Location, Location, Location. Consider if the pub is located in the center of town or on the outskirts? A pub’s location greatly determines its traffic. Less central pubs tend to be the “neighborhood local,” where familiar faces stop in for a pint or two, while pubs in the middle of town get the heaviest traffic during the weekends. Ask yourself if you prefer the idea of a getting to know a group of regulars or having a constant rotation of new people.

 What’s on tap? In England, there is a divide between the real ale and lager drinkers. Real ale is the traditional pint, brewed without carbonation or chemicals and served just below room temperature, while lagers are light-bodied and fizzy, like Carlsberg and Heineken. A pub with a wide selection of real ales will likely cater to an older crowd of beer drinkers who take their pints seriously. Pubs primarily stocked with lagers, ciders, and alcohol pops (such as Smirnoff Ice) cater to a younger crowd.

 Footie, anyone? The English are crazy about their football and there is nothing more exhilarating than being inside a crowded pub when England scores. Unfortunately, many people take their football allegiance to extremes and with the right combination of alcohol things can get out of hand—even violent. Though football hooliganism isn’t quite as widespread as it was in the ’80s, the spirit remains in certain areas of England. Some pubs refuse to play football matches simply to avoid these situations. Check if the pub has Sky TV and ask whether football brings in a big crowd.

 License and registration, please. Until recently, last call was 11 p.m. across the land. Now, pubs are allowed to operate up to 24 hours at an additional cost. The smaller pubs tend to keep to the traditional closing time while the larger ones open their doors to the late night revelers. Ask about the pub’s license and decide whether you want to stay up late with people who have been out drinking all night.

  Who’s the boss? Managers of English pubs (called landlords and landladies) rent the establishment from breweries and corporations. It is relatively easy to take on a pub and people do it for all kinds of different reasons. Successful pubs have competent, professional managers; alternately, rundown pubs are the product of lax management. A landlord will make or break your experience working in a pub. Stick with your first impression when meeting him or her, because the managers are your protection if any problems arise. Since you will be getting paid off the books, you want to deal with someone who is honest and professional.

 Have a pint. Simply put, the best pubs reveal themselves the moment you step inside. What makes an English pub great is a unique blend of friendly people, a sense of history, excellent beer, and terrific humor.

For More Info

You can find detailed information about work permits and visas is available at

For a free assessment to find if you qualify for the HSMP, go to

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