Moving to a new country is a scary prospect, especially if its traditions differ from your own but knowledge is power. Here's an insight into what it's like living in the UK
When you move to a new country to study missing family, friends and home comforts is to be expected - but try to view your new situation as the adventure of a lifetime.
On the whole, British society is open and multicultural and its people are friendly and accepting. University towns and large cities have big international communities, so you should find friends and activities to help you feel at home
While in the UK you'll have the opportunity to explore new landscapes, sample different cuisine, make new friends and experience a whole new culture.
This guide covers all the essential points that will help ease your transition to life in the UK.
Arriving at the airport
If you're travelling to the UK by air and are from outside the European Union (EU) you will likely arrive at one of the three major London airports:
Other cities with airports that cater for flights from outside of the EU include:
From these locations you can easily get to other parts of the UK, by train, bus or taxi.
On arrival at the airport you will go through Immigration Control where your passport and visa documents are checked. Once you have collected your luggage you will pass through Customs Control.
If you are from a non-EU country and travel to the UK carrying the equivalent of €10,000 in any currency, you must declare this at Customs Control.
There are also restrictions on what goods you are allowed to bring into the country. For example, you can't bring in meat or dairy products from most non-EU countries, while certain animals and plants are also banned. A licence to carry some prescription medicines is needed and there are allowances on tobacco, alcohol and gifts.
Before you travel, check GOV.UK - Bringing goods into the UK.
Food and drink
Every country has its classic dishes and the UK is no different. If you're feeling hungry you could sample a full English breakfast, fish and chips or a traditional Sunday roast. For dessert, why not try cream tea and scones or trifle?
British favourites aside, UK menus are extremely multicultural - as a matter of fact chicken tikka masala has been adopted as a national dish.
Halal and kosher products are available in many restaurants and takeaways and in most large supermarkets. In larger towns and cities you'll also be able to find specialist halal and kosher shops. However, as a rule, animal products in the UK will not always be halal or kosher, so check before you buy or order.
Vegetarian and vegan food is hugely popular and easy to find in supermarkets and restaurants. Healthy eating is also made simple with many food products clearly labelled with calorie, fat, salt and sugar content.
High street supermarkets stock a huge range of products. Stores which are generally cheaper include:
Supermarkets that are considered more expensive include:
- Marks & Spencer
If you order over the internet, some supermarkets deliver your groceries to your door for a small fee.
When it comes to drinks, the English are a nation of tea lovers (although other hot beverages are available). It is also safe to drink water straight from the tap in the UK.
When living in the UK, you have a number of public transport options:
Locations across the country operate bus and rail networks, while some towns and cities, such as Blackpool, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield, boast extensive tram networks. If you're living in the capital, the famous London Underground - also known as the tube - can be relied upon to help you navigate the city conveniently, with similar networks in place in Glasgow and Newcastle.
If your destination is close by, opt for the healthy, money-saving options of walking or cycling. Some universities provide free or cheap bus travel around the campus for students.
Students are eligible for subsidised travel tickets with a valid National Union of Students' (NUS) card. The TOTUM (formerly NUS Extra) card will give you:
- a 10% discount at Megabus - one of the UK's intercity bus travel providers
- 25% off rail fares when you travel with TransPennine Express.
You should aim to open a bank account within the first few days of your arrival. This will allow you to:
- store your money safely
- withdraw cash (many banks have a limit to the amount of cash you can withdraw in one day - usually around £300)
- send bank transfers
- pay bills.
It can take up to two weeks to open an account, so you need to make sure you have enough money on arrival to last until then.
Before opening an account take consider the basic features, such as overdraft limits, interest rates and bank fees and compare them with other providers. Shop around and choose the account best suited to your needs.
To open an account, visit the local branch of the bank you have chosen. Certain documents confirming your identity will be required such as:
- your passport and/or visa
- a document confirming your student status
- proof of address
- references from your home bank.
Check with the bank beforehand about which documents you'll need.
Remember that your account number and sort code are used to identify your bank account, while your PIN is separate and used to identify the correct account holder when you withdraw cash or pay for items using a debit or credit card. Never share this information with anyone else.
A number of banks provide student accounts offering higher interest rates and free gifts such as mobile phone insurance or railcards. These include:
- Lloyds Bank
For more information, see UKCISA - Opening a bank account.
The UK's currency is pound sterling (£). There are 100 pence (p) to the pound. Coins in circulation include:
UK banknotes include:
When out shopping it's best to take small denominations of money with you (£5, £10, or £20, including some change) as £50 notes are not widely accepted in shops.
There are a number of English 'slang' terms used to describe money that you're bound to hear during your stay. These include the use of:
- 'p' (pee) for 'pence'
- 'quid' to describe a pound
- 'fiver' or 'tenner' to describe £5 and £10 respectively.
Most international students stay in university accommodation such as halls of residence and this is generally organised through an education agency or the university direct. It is usual to have your own bedroom and share a kitchen and bathroom with other students, making it a great way to make friends.
University accommodation outside of London is considerably cheaper than halls in the capital.
Other accommodation options for international students include:
- Private accommodation - many students rent private houses, sharing the cost with friends.
- Homestay accommodation - where students stay with a host family and experience British culture first hand. For more information, see Hosts International.
- Short-term accommodation - such as bedsits and hostels.
Some universities provide accommodation exclusively for postgraduate students so check with your chosen institution.
One of the most important factors for international students is the cost of living in the UK. Some parts of the country are considerably cheaper than others. For example, London and other big cities are more expensive. The amount that you spend varies depending on your lifestyle.
Accommodation is a major outgoing and rent prices differ depending on location and type of living arrangement. If you live in student accommodation, utility bills such as water, electricity and gas tend to be included in the rent. However, if you rent privately you will be responsible for paying these bills.
When you move in, take a meter reading to make sure that you are only charged for the utilities you use. Set up a payment plan with your energy supplier (your landlord will tell you which company this is) and agree to pay a certain amount each month. You will receive bills either monthly or quarterly. If everyone in your house is a full-time student then you don't have to pay council tax. Contact your university accommodation office to find out if you are exempt and to pick up an exemption form.
To estimate the cost of living in different areas of the UK depending on your study location, see Which? University's Student Budget Calculator.
Take into consideration 'hidden' costs such as food, transport, study materials and social activities. If you plan to return home for visits you'll also have to factor in the cost of flights.
To call the UK, the country code is +44. To ring another country from within the UK, you'll need to dial '00' followed by the country's code.
If you're staying in the UK for any amount of time, you'll need a mobile (cell) phone. The most popular, and often cheapest option, for international students is to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card to go in your existing phone (this may need to be 'unlocked' to your new network first) or a new phone.
Pay-as-you-go means you add money to your account as and when you need it. Lebara Mobile is popular among international students, as it offers low-cost international calls.
With contract phones you pay a monthly bill. There are a variety of contracts to choose from and in order to get the best deal you'll need to shop around.
- SIM only contracts - you buy a SIM card that can be used in an existing phone. You sign up to a 30-day rolling contract giving you the freedom to cancel at any time.
- Long-term contracts - run for a fixed period of 12, 18 or 24 months. These contracts sometimes offer deals such as cheaper calls when you're outside the UK.
Clothing and climate
To save space in your suitcase buy as much as you can when you arrive in the UK. This will also help you to buy clothing appropriate for the weather.
You'll need a raincoat and an umbrella for the rain in spring (March, April and May) and autumn (September, October and November). In the winter months of December, January and February you will need a thick coat, jumpers and boots for the wet and sometimes snowy weather. Finally, the summer (June, July and August) brings sunshine so make sure you have light outfits such as t-shirts, shorts, summer dresses and sandals.
The British weather is infamous for its changeable nature so keep your eye on local weather reports to make sure that you're prepared for every eventuality.
When deciding what to wear a good tip is to layer your outfits. This not only allows you to save space in your luggage (you get more outfits from fewer clothes) but also gives you the option to take layers on or off as appropriate.
Popular and affordable stores on the UK high street include:
- River Island
- TK Maxx
Many shops offer student discount (usually 10%) when you show them a valid TOTUM card.
The National Health Service (NHS) provides medical care free of charge depending on your circumstances. Services such as emergency treatment and family planning are free for everyone, while receiving other treatments for free depends on your immigration status, the length of your course, and where you are studying.
Dental and optical treatments usually require payment.
The alternative to the NHS is private healthcare, which charges everyone for everything. Before leaving your country take out private health insurance, especially if you are not entitled to NHS treatment.
As soon as you arrive, register with a doctor. Visit the closest surgery to you, taking a letter to prove you are a student. To find out more about registering with a doctor and entitlements to NHS treatment, see UKCISA - Health and healthcare.
You also need to register with a dentist. Find out more and search for a dentist at NHS Choices - Find Services.
If you need to get medicine from a pharmacy, your doctor will give you a prescription. Prescriptions cost £9.15 per item in England and are free of charge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Three monthly or yearly prescription prepayment certificates (PPC) could save you money if you need more than three items in three months or 12 items in a year respectively.
Safety in the UK
By international standards, the UK is a safe place to live and study. However, as a student in a new country, it's important to remember basic safety tips such as:
- Money - Don't carry large amounts of cash and make sure that you open a bank account to store your money, rather than keeping it at home. Be aware of people around you at cash machines and always shield your PIN from view.
- Personal possessions - Keep your bag zipped up and your valuables out of sight. Photocopy you travel documents and passport and keep them separate from your original document. To track valuables if they are lost or stolen, get them security marked at a local police station, often for free.
- Travel - Avoid walking alone late at night and keep to well-lit streets. Only use licensed taxis and check they have a photo identification card and licence plate attached. If travelling on the London Underground or by train at night, avoid sitting in unoccupied carriages. If you have a car, make sure that you lock your vehicle and keep navigation systems and other valuables hidden from sight.
- Nights out - Never accept drinks from strangers and do not leave your drink unattended
- Social media - Be careful when using 'checking in' features on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Such posts give away your location and if you're alone this could risk personal safety. Also use common sense when posting images of expensive items as this could make you a target for burglars.
Learning the language
Many universities offer additional language support, free of charge, to students who have been accepted onto a course. You can polish up your skills before you arrive or receive tutoring once you have started your course. If your first language is not English, contact your university's language centre as soon as possible on arrival.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to study in the UK.
- Learn what to expect when working in the UK.
- For further practical advice when moving to the UK see UKCISA: UK Council for International Student Affairs.