For any international student moving to UK, it can be a little daunting. Having gone through the same process not too long ago, we decided to put together a list of things we wish we knew before arriving in London!
- Communicate, Communicate and Communicate
While online research is important, it’s better to speak to someone who is already living in London. If you don’t know anyone already there don’t be afraid to contact the University or Student Union to ask for advice.
Things like public transportation costs, safe neighbourhoods, recommended places to eat will help you plan your time and budget better.
2. Choose your Accommodation Wisely
University accommodation is a good idea for first few months to help you settle in as it will give you a chance to meet new people and network. Once you know the city better you’ll probably want to spread your wings and move into a place with a few friends away from the antics and irritations of student halls.
You can use our free app called PLACE (http://placepropertyapp.com) to find good and value for money apartments and student houses, just a few minutes from all the flatmates colleges or universities.
The public transportation network in UK is excellent but is expensive outside of London, even with a student rail card. Luckily, as a student in London, the majority of the careers fairs and job opportunities are on your doorstep. In London you MUST get an Oyster Card, the contactless payment card for all transport in London. It gets you the cheapest rates of travel in London and you can even get a student discounted rate too. Here is what we suggest to simplify your choices –
The cheapest way to get around London and the best way to see the city from the upper deck of a classic Double Decker bus. They run really frequently and it’s often no more than a few minutes between buses arriving at a stop. Great when there isn’t much traffic, terrible when there is traffic. The Underground or Tube is the simplest and fastest way to move around the city but the map can be a little confusing.
If you are travelling between cities, coaches are a cheaper alternative to trains, but they can take almost double the travel time to arrive and don’t expect them to arrive to destination on time. Megabus is the cheapest option with fares starting at £1 but they tend to be very busy. If that’s the case, then try National Express as they offer the largest coach network in the UK or Stagecoach.
Trains are the most preferred way to get around the UK and is the most comfortable too!
Get yourself a student rail card, it’ll give you at least ⅓ off the the normal fares. Also, book in advance, it can save you as much as 80% if you are flexible on your travel times and travel outside of peak hours (which usually rush hours in the morning but they do vary so you have to check the timings on the book site).
If you are in London then the tube is often the fastest way to get around. Also, for travel in London, take a look at the Oyster card. It is by far the cheapest option.
4. Cheap International Calls
“Hey Mom! I made it. Talk soon!” and you are charged £5 for that. Now we don’t want that, do we?
We suggest it is best to get one of those PAYG sim cards which are available at the airport and practically every supermarket and grocery store. In terms of network coverage, O2 and Vodafone have decent coverage while giffgaff (uses O2’s network) is the cheapest one.
For calling back home, there are hosts of low cost options, such as LycaMobile, Lebara and RebTel offering around 1-2p a minute.
5. Sort out your Bank Account
It’s advisable to apply for a Student Bank Account if you are going to be in the country for more than couple of months. There are many advantages to it –
- Bank Statements acts as a Proof of Address especially if you need a Schengen Visa to travel across Europe or
- Proof of Income
- Benefits such as interest free overdraft of up to £2,000
- Keeps your money safe meaning you don’t have to carry lots of cash on you
You will need a confirmation letter from your University/School proving your student status. It is advisable to apply well ahead in time as from personal experience, it usually takes long to receive the debit card and pin.
6. Register with a General Practitioner (GP)
It is strongly recommended that you register with a doctor as soon as possible after you arrive in London so that you can access healthcare as quickly as possible if you become ill or injured.
You can find most of the details about Registering with GP on this page
7. It’s Raining! It’s Sunny! It’s Raining Again!
It’s entirely normal for it to rain one minute and then be a perfect day a few minutes later. The weather is a daily topic of conversation and you must be prepared for anything. Even on a good day people will carry an umbrella, just in case it rains on your journey.
Again, you can use PLACE to find an apartment based on commute distance from the University.
8. Working part time in London
As a rule, the EU is more flexible for allowing working than outside of it. The best approach is to check with your student representative or counsellor at the University who can guide you better on an individual basis and they often have jobs boards. Alternatively, you can also check out the more generic official guidelines at UK Council for International Student Affairs.
9. Preparing for London
London is a patch work quilt of areas with very different styles of buildings, characteristics, people and atmosphere. While you will be able to find many students who share similar background and beliefs as yours, we recommend that you make the maximum of this opportunity to learn and understand other cultures. The best way to do that is to live in the city, the worst thing you can do is stay in student halls for all 3 years, isolated from one of the best places to live in the world.
London boasts of array of restaurants, bars and night clubs. As the poet Samuel Johnson once said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” No matter who you are and what your tastes are you can find something to do in London. In such a vibrant city with so many creative elements there is always something new to go to or experience, whether it’s high rolling clubs in the West End or something a bit grittier in hipster East London.
Lastly, don’t forget to book that Transport from the Airport to your Accommodation! Buses are cheapest but don’t expect to get there in a hurry.
10. Taxi Transfers
Usually, Taxi Transfers from Airport to City Centre are quite expensive. Its advisable to use Airport Express or London Tube Transfers. You can save a lot if you plan well ahead in time. But if you have good number of luggage with you, it’s better to book an Uber in advance. Even better, you can share your Uber ride if you are travelling with a friend as London has Uber Pool.
The author was a student in the UK and learnt about living in London the hard way when he rented a very cheap flat with 3 friends in East London.
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