National Insurance Numbers Explained

Shamus Lee, Career Zone staff and current Exeter student
Shamus Lee, Career Zone staff and current Exeter student

Hello, I’m Shamus Lee, International Student UK Employment Adviser in the Career Zone. I’m also a current BSc Economics student at Exeter. 

If you’re a non-home student who wants to work in the United Kingdom (UK), you may have heard the term ‘National Insurance’.

So, what is National Insurance? Everyone who wants to work in the UK will need a National Insurance (NI) number to pay social security contributions. This NI contribution will qualify the contributor to state benefits and pension. So yes – you will need one if you intend to work part-time, do an internship or get a graduate role in the UK. However, you will only start paying contributions if you earn more than £155 a week. For more information on NI numbers, visit:

Who needs one? Everyone (home, EEA, international residents) who work in the UK will need a NI number to pay the contribution. If you’re born in the UK, you will automatically receive one. If you’re not born in the UK, then you would need to apply for one.

Is the application for a NI free, and how do I get one? Application for NI number is FREE: You do not need to pay to get a NI number. Follow the instructions on our website to apply for your NI number.

Can I work without one? Yes, you can, but many employers will request it at later stage. You can start employment without one, but it’s always better to have it ready. This number follows through your life, so even if you come back to work in the UK 10 years later, you will still use the same number.

What happens during the telephone interview? Don’t worry; it just involves some basic questions relating to yourself and your visa. At the end of the call, you’ll get a reference number – write it down!

What happens after the telephone interview? You should receive a package in your mailbox within two weeks. Fill in the documents and return to the address shown. After that, you may (or may not) be asked to drop by either of the Job Centres in Taunton or Plymouth to have your Visa or passport verified, and after that you’ll receive your NI number in your mailbox.

How long does the application take? The entire process from the phone call to receiving a NI number can take up to six weeks.

Still need help? Drop by the Career Zone, or one of the Hubs to speak to any of our friendly staff, and we’ll be more than happy to guide you through the process.

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