Cover: Understanding the lived experience of military-to-civilian transition and post-Service life among non-UK veterans

Understanding the lived experience of military-to-civilian transition and post-Service life among non-UK veterans

Published May 16, 2024

by Linda Slapakova, Edward Bryan, Mattias Eken, Livia Dewaele

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Research Question

  1. What are non-UK veterans' experiences of military-to-civilian transition and post-Service life?

The UK Armed Forces have an established history of recruiting non-native citizens, including individuals from the Commonwealth and Ireland, as well as Nepalese nationals who may join the British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas. During and after their military Service, members of these communities may encounter challenges and opportunities that can impact both their own and their family's wellbeing. While there is now a sizable community of veterans who served as non-UK personnel, little research has engaged with this community to date.

To address this evidential gap, this study examined the following question: 'What are non-UK veterans' experiences of military-to-civilian transition and of post-Service life?' Recognising that a veteran's military-to-civilian transition begins at their first contact with the UK Armed Forces, the research examined the lived experience of non-UK veterans across four key stages: 1) joining the UK Armed Forces; 2) in-Service life; 3) resettlement and military-to-civilian transition; and 4) post-Service life. While the participants' testimonies were extremely diverse, the study provided initial insight into the additional complexity and uncertainty associated with non-UK veterans' military-to-civilian transition, the perceived value awarded to their military Service, and the significance of informal support networks among members of this community.

Key Findings

The lived experience of non-UK veterans is shaped by the intersections of one's status as a veteran and a migrant.

  • This dynamic often means that non-UK veterans must frequently navigate multiple transitions simultaneously during moments of change of upheaval (e.g., military-to-civilian transition) due to the twin pressures of Service life and immigration-related requirements.

Non-UK veterans' experiences are regularly defined by a greater degree of complexity and uncertainty compared to other veterans.

  • Although not every non-UK veteran encounters challenges during and after their Service, the study revealed that members of this community can experience added uncertainties and unique demands in comparison to UK Service leavers. For many non-UK veterans, this is tied to navigating unfamiliar organisational processes and socio-cultural environments.

Many non-UK veterans believe that their contributions and support needs are poorly understood.

  • While the study's participants expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to serve in the UK Armed Forces, they thought that there was limited awareness and recognition of the non-UK veteran community across the UK government and society more widely. This presented them with challenges (e.g., receiving conflicting information about non-UK Service issues) and led them to doubt the value of their Service.

Informal social networks and communities are important support mechanisms for non-UK veterans.

  • The study participants' testimonies indicated that non-UK veterans may rely more on peer-to-peer support and informal networks as opposed to formal support channels. This may help explain the low uptake of formal support services from non-UK communities that has been observed across the sector.


The study provided 20 recommendations oriented at:

  • Advancing a review of resettlement support for non-UK Service personnel.
  • Improving information-provision for non-UK Service personnel and veterans.
  • Amplifying non-UK voices within serving and veteran communities.
  • Ensuring the inclusion of small charities and voluntary organisations working with non-UK veteran communities.
  • Ensuring support provision reflects the potential psycho-social challenges faced by non-UK veterans.
  • Addressing gaps and challenges in data-collection to build an understanding of non-UK military communities.
  • Continuing to build evidence to support policy improvement and tailored support provision for non-UK veterans.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the UK Office for Veterans' Affairs and conducted by the Defence and Security Program within RAND Europe.

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