9 things international students need to know about when moving to the UK
Coming to the UK to study and worried you don't have everything covered? We have all the info you need to enjoy your time in Britain, stress-free!For many international students, coming to study in the UK can be a little daunting (but exciting too, of course!).
It's important to make sure you're fully prepared before arriving in the UK, so that you know exactly what's ahead of you and can avoid any unexpected stress.
We spoke with a number of international students and asked them what they wished they had known before arriving in the UK to study, and put this guide together in response.
As always – feel free to ask questions you have, or experiences you'd like to share in the comments below!
First – do your own research
Before we get into details, it's worth pointing out that you should do as much of your own research as you can before you move. The more information you have, the easier your transition will be – it's as simple as that!
If you have any friends, family or friends-of-friends already living in the UK or who have studied there before, they should be your first port of call. Ask them as many questions as they can handle, and anything you're still unsure about – try google!
As you'll see when you begin reading through this handy guide, Save the Student has a lot of information on student life in the UK, and how to cope with life more generally as a young person living in Britain!
We've tried to link to resources we think international students will find useful throughout this page, so make sure you go beyond this article to dig deeper into the details.
Don't be afraid to contact the university you'll be attending directly to ask about the course or any other arrangements you're unsure of. There are usually local advisers that are there to provide you with details on studying in the UK, so don't be afraid to ask!
If you already know which UK city you'll be studying in, we've got a whole selection of student city guides for you to read up on.
Your international student checklist
Always ensure that you have all the relevant documentation and visas to allow you to study in the UK (you should look into this months in advance as these things can take time).
If you're coming from an EU country, you do not need a visa to study in Britain at the moment. However, as the UK recently voted to leave the European Union, it's likely that this could change, unfortunately. Sign up to our newsletter, and we'll keep you in the know if any changes occur, but things are likely to remain the way they are until 2018.
If you're arriving from a non-EU country, you might need a visa to come and study here. If you do, you'll need what is called a Tier 4 Student Visa, and there are a few extra requirements before you'll be able to apply (for example, you need to demonstrate a good knowledge of English).
You'll find all the information you need to know about the student visa including how to apply on this government website.
Prepare for British life!
Culturally, the UK is very diverse and welcoming of people from around the world. You should be able to find many like-minded students that share a similar background and beliefs, and most universities will have different societies that you can join to meet like-minded people.
We would also recommend searching for Facebook groups related to your university (they often have groups specifically for international students) so you can discuss any questions you have before arriving.
In case you weren't aware of this, the UK is known for its cold and wet weather! Pack lots of warm and waterproof outfits for the winter months, and don't expect summer to be very hot!
Most student budgets won't be able to afford having the heating on all the time (although we have tricks to help you save on your energy bills!), so warm clothes are essential.
Credit: Nick – Flickr
The first place to ask when looking for somewhere to live is go directly to your university. They will often have guides or websites with information on university accommodation as well as contacts at local student-friendly estate agencies who will be able to advise you.
If you'd prefer to do the accommodation hunt yourself, you can also find many properties listed via our student letting agents directory.
Make sure you check out our guide to viewing student houses so you know what to watch out for!
It might be a good idea to live in university accommodation (what we call ‘halls') during your first year until you're on your feet. This sort of shared living can be ideal as you are able to make friends through shared living spaces and kitchen facilities, but will also have your own privacy with a lock on your dorm room door if you need space.If you're not looking forward to the idea of sharing your home with strangers, here's our guide to surviving shared living!
There are different options to choose from as well, including self-catered living (where you share a kitchen with others and are in charge of feeding and cooking for yourself) and catered living (where meals will be prepared for you by kitchen staff in a canteen somewhere in your building). You'll also have the option of a private or shared dorm room (shared rooms are normally for two people and are cheaper than private rooms).
Living initially in student housing will give you time to make some friends who you can then perhaps look for a flat to share with in the following years at university.
University accommodation is a great place to meet new people as everyone is in the same boat!
If you're from Europe, you should obtain a European Health Insurance Card or equivalent from your own country's healthcare service.
This will entitle you to free or reduced healthcare under the National Health Service (NHS) while you are here in the UK. See here for further information.
If you're coming from a country outside of the EU, you'll need to organise your own health insurance. We recommend using a comparison site like confused.com or Compare the Market in order to find the best deal.
If you are staying in the UK for longer than a few months (so longer than a semester), we would recommend that you try to set up a bank account. This will allow you to pay your bills, keep your money safe, and avoid any foreign currency charges you'd need to pay if you use a non-UK bank account to pay for things in Britain.
UK banks can be quite strict about the requirements for opening an account. This is because credit products such as credit cards are usually available on current accounts, meaning the bank will need to verify your details thoroughly to make sure you have an acceptable credit history to be given credit products.
In order to open a bank account while you're here in the UK, you will need the following:
• Identification – a passport is usually required
• Proof of address – both from back home and within this country, documents such as bills are acceptable
• Proof of income – this may mean a credit check and interview to establish you will be able to maintain the account
• Proof of your student status (usually the confirmation letter from your university is enough).
Student bank accounts are a great option, as they offer numerous benefits including an interest free overdraft of up to £2,000. However, it's worth knowing that not all banks offer student bank accounts to international students (but you'll still be able to open a regular current account so don't sweat!).
Check out our guide to the best student bank accounts available, and use this as a starting point to find an account that suits your situation.
Using your phone
One of the first questions you may ask is if your current phone will work in the UK. The answer is most likely, yes!
The UK operates on the same GSM band as most of the world, but if you're coming from Japan or North/South America, your phone may not work in the UK so this is worth checking.
However, the worst thing you can do is keep your current SIM card in your phone while studying in the UK. You will pay extremely high call charges for calling back home as well as on local numbers.
Here are our top tips for keeping connected on the cheap!
For calling local numbers:
If you already have a mobile phone then you will need a new SIM card. Pay As You Go (PAYG) means that you top up the phone when your credit runs out and this is good for keeping an eye on your spending.
Monthly contracts are usually better value as you will get free minutes and texts but you will have to pay out every month, coming with added long-term responsibility. The best deal we know of is this one from GiffGaff.
If you would like a new phone, check out our comparison tool to get a great deal that will have minutes, text and data bundled together for a low monthly price. You can even keep the phone when then contract finishes.
For calling back home:
In recent years there have been lots of low-cost international call providers popping up, such as Lebara, LycaMobile and RebTel. However, from what we've gathered RebTel offer the best value, with some calls under 1p a minute and your first call is free.
Alternatively, use Skype on your computer, smartphone or tablet to call another Skype account back home for free – this includes video chat! If you have an iPhone, you can also use the FaceTime function in the same way.
Other free call apps include Viber and recently Whatsapp has added a calling function to its free messaging service.
Credit: E01 – Flickr
Getting your head around public transport can always be a bit daunting at first, particularly as there are so many different options! We're here to help you get around by simplifying your choices.
Stagecoach are a bus company within the UK that offer a year pass called a UniRider. This is a cheap and easy way to travel around cities and can save you a lot of money throughout the year.
If you are within London then the underground, or ‘the tube' as we call it here, is often the fastest way to get around. For travel in London specifically, take a look at the Oyster card – it is by far the cheapest option and can be used across various different modes of transport.
The two main options for national travel across the UK are by coach or train.
Trains are often the quickest and most comfortable way to get around the UK. Tickets should be booked as early as possible to save money – check out our guide to saving on train fares here.
Coaches are a cheaper alternative to trains, but they can take double the travel time to arrive. Our top pick for saving money is Megabus, with journeys starting at £1 between the major cities.
If you cannot find a suitable arrival and departure point, then try National Express as they offer the largest coach network in the UK. We have an extensive guide on how to save on coach travel for you to read here.
If you're traveling a bit further, we also have a list of tricks to help you save on flights!
Working in the UK
If you want to make some extra cash while you're studying, or gain some valuable experience, then you may be wondering what your rights and options to work in the UK are.
If you're from a non-EU country, you will be able to work up to 20 hours per week while studying and possibly after the completion of your studies (although there are ongoing discussions about changes to these terms – sign up to our newsletter and we'll keep you informed of changes if they occur).
If you're coming from an EU country, you are free to work as many hours as you wish and can continue working as long as you'd like to following graduation.
For more information see the official guidelines at UK Council for International Student Affairs.
The criteria for being eligible for student finance in the UK as an international student can be quite complicated. For those students with an EU passport, you can apply for a tuition fee loan from the government provided that you've been living in Europe (EEA and Switzerland) for the past three years before applying – read this government guide for more information.
For non-EU students, it's unlikely that you'll be able to get a loan from the government to cover your tuition fees, and your fees are likely to be higher than those of EU nationals.
However, there is a possibility that you could apply for a loan from your own government that could cover costs.
It could also be worth your time applying for privately-funded scholarships, as there are some external organisations, charities and universities that provide them.
Are you an international student studying in the UK? Do you have any tips for others coming here?
Please add your comments below to improve our guide and help other students!