Studying For The U.K. Citizenship Test

Big BenI’m studying for my U.K. citizenship test.

It’s actually not citizenship per se. Rather, it’s what’s known – in an impossibly English formulation – as “Indefinite Leave To Remain” (ILR). But ILR the first step on the road to citizenship, and it allows us to become permanent residents in the UK.

In addition to assembling a shed load of paperwork that would appear to include evidence of everything we’ve ever eaten since moving here five years ago (kidding…barely), we also need to take a test about “Life in the United Kingdom.”

So for the next two weeks, I have set aside a half hour every day to review various facets of British life ranging from historical immigration patterns to the ins and outs of the educational system to how laws get made here.

At first, I was really irritated that I needed to pass an exam to show that I understood life in the U.K. (I mean, seriously, folks. After last week’s working class vacation, how could anyone possibly tell me that I don’t “get” what it’s like to live here?)

Plus, all of my American friends who’ve already taken the test have told me that it’s a complete waste of time and that I’ll forget everything I study as soon as I walk out of the test room.

Much to my surprise, however, I’m finding the whole thing rather useful.

There are, first of all, the things I already know and can take pride in having mastered lo these past five years: things like how the NHS actually works, how one goes about obtaining a driver’s license and, for better or worse,  how one goes about buying a house. (On this last one, I’d like to volunteer to add a segment on getting gazumped.)

Then there are the things that I thought I understood, but actually didn’t. Like the difference between the Council of Europe, the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament. (Here’s a handy-dandy primer, in case you’re, um, interested.)

And then, finally, there are the things I had no clue about, may well forget, but am actually really pleased to discover:  like what percentage of the population in the UK is actually Muslim (surprisingly low, given all the anti-Islamic rhetoric…what the heck is a GCSE and when do my kids need to take them?…and how big is the population of Wales vis a vis the rest of the country?).

Above all, however, preparing to take a citizenship test in another country forces you to grapple with your own patriotism. If, as and when we obtain British citizenship, we will still be free to return to live in the U.S. at any point.  Nonetheless, at the end of this whole process and assuming that I can remember that 70% of British citizens belong to the Church of England on test day – we’ll be bonafide citizens of another country.

We’ll be able to vote. We’ll be able to work anywhere in the EU. And our kids can serve in the British military.


Image: Photo by Marcin Nowak on Unsplash




  • Reply Maria

    July 5, 2011, 5:13 pm

    Hi Delia,
    first of all, I’d like to tell you that I was very happy to discover your blog while searching for articles on how TV and computers are affecting the kids. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts ever since. (not long, just about a week or so, but now I am hooked). As for the present post, thanks for the info. I should gather my strengths and apply for the ILR. I’ve been here for longer than 5 years. Thanks!

  • Reply Shelley

    July 5, 2011, 6:13 pm

    I received indefinite leave to remain after working under a work permit for four years and the applying to be released. No test involved. Obviously things have changed. Under that visa I could leave for up to two years and still return to Britain if I wished, but leave for more than two years and the visa would no longer apply.

    When I looked into becoming a British citizen, it looked as though the same limitations applied: leave for more than two years and you can’t come back. It sounded like second class citizenship to me and I didn’t see the point.

    Will you be able to leave for more than two years and still return? Will you have all the rights of a bona fide born in Britain citizen?

    I’m not the wife of a British citizen which may give me more leeway, but I’ve not checked. Last I looked I couldn’t afford to buy health insurance in the US, so we’ll be staying here!

    • Reply delialloyd

      July 6, 2011, 9:42 am

      Hi Shelley. Yes, things have changed. You are the second person to tell me about the “easy” way to get ILR but it’s no longer so simple. Once I have it, I cannot leave the UK for more than 2 years. But when I get citizenship, I think I”m free to come and go as I please-but I better check on that! Thanks for the heads up!

  • Reply daryl boylan

    July 5, 2011, 10:31 pm

    Yipes! The previous comment-er raises a couple of pertinent questions — Clearly, you’re into the long haul & maybe you already have the answers.

  • Reply Susan

    July 6, 2011, 10:01 pm

    Your (or rather the BBC’s) primer seems in need of an update. Bulgaria and Romania are not “officially recognised as candidates” but have been EU members since 2007.

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