10 things every foreign student in London should know

Top tips to help international students navigate London life and get the most out of university

May 22 2017
foreign students in London

After lots of meticulous research, you have finally settled on a university in London. You are ready to plunge headfirst into the city that bred William Blake, Jane Goodall and the Rolling Stones.

As a foreign student in London, there are many exciting avenues to explore as well as many challenges to overcome. From saving money to finding the student accommodation that suits your lifestyle, here are my 10 tips for foreign students moving to London.

The visa

The most important thing to sort out is your visa. For students coming from an EU country, you are not required to have a visa to study in the UK. That being said, the aftermath of Brexit may change things but students are unlikely to be affected until 2018. Foreign students arriving from outside of the EU will likely need a Tier 4 Student Visa. These documents are fairly straightforward but don’t be afraid to ask your university's student services for help.

If you want to earn some extra money while studying, be sure to consider this when applying for your visa. Students from the EU can work as many hours as they wish while students from non-EU countries may be limited to working 20 hours a week.

The accommodation dilemma       

Self-catered? Shared housing? Halls? All of these terms can make it confusing to find the right accommodation for you. Most universities have a guide book that describes the various student housing options, so this can help you narrow down your options. Halls are the most traditional type of accommodation, similar to American dormitories. There are catered halls where all amenities are part of the package including dining facilities. You could also select self-catered halls, where you are in charge of your own meals, but still have the sociable aspect of living with others. 

It is important to choose accommodation that suits your personality and lifestyle. It is likely that the friends you make in your first year will go on to live with you throughout the rest of your university years.

Student experience in London

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A guide to UK tuition fees and student visas: Preparing for university as an international student
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How to choose a UK university

What’s with the weather?

Contrary to popular belief it does not rain all of the time in London. That being said, it does get cold and as a student, you will want to keep your heating bills low so bring warm clothes, wet weather clothes and an umbrella.

Books on a budget

The cost of books and stationery can really add up. Obviously the cheapest option is to take out materials from the library; however, it is unlikely that even the best libraries will have 100 copies of Dante’s Inferno. Look at the course material provided by your lecturer ahead of time and consider buying books from secondhand bookshops or online.

Ace the essay

The biggest shock for many students who choose to study in London is the emphasis placed on essays. They can account for anything from 30 per cent to 100 per cent of your mark so it’s important to get them right. Your professor will be closely scrutinising how you present your arguments and support it with outside research not to mention those pesky annotations. Good research will help you make the transition to this new type of academia.

Where to bank

Save yourself the hassle of foreign currency charges and complex billing systems by setting up a UK bank account. Most banks in the UK will require a passport, proof of address (such as a bill) from both your home and your current accommodation and proof of student status to do this. 

To prove your student status your university acceptance letter should suffice. Also if you do not have any bills, student housing services should be able to provide a proof of address. The bank may also run a credit check in the form of a short interview to establish that you are responsible enough to open an account.

Student accounts often have excellent benefits such as a joining bonus. Many are also equipped with an interest-free overdraft although this may not be available to some international students.

Choosing a university

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Tips for travel

Be sure to get yourself a student Oyster card. The Oyster card is a contactless travel card that can be used on the London underground, overground and bus services and offers students a discounted rate for travel. It’s personalised with your name and photo so that if lost, your money can be transferred to a new card.

If you plan on traveling around the UK (and you really should), it is also worth investing in a 16-25 Railcard. You can also find some great travel deals on the Megabus and National Express coach service. Buying tickets even a month in advance can make the difference between a £10 ticket and a £90 ticket.

The healthcare question

If you are coming from an EU country, you should get a European Health Insurance Card before arriving in London. This will allow you take advantage of the free (or reduced cost) health care services through the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). If you are coming from outside of the EU, you will need to purchase your own health insurance. You may still be registered on your parent’s insurance but if not, price comparison sites can help you find the best deal.

Ask for a discount

Many places will proudly advertise their student discount but many others do not. Get into the habit of asking everyone if they have a student discount from the little Italian café on the corner to high street stores like Topshop. Getting an NUS (National Union of Students) extra card will give you access to more exclusive offers but see how you get on with using your student card first.

On the town

With so many amazing restaurants, bars and nightclubs on your doorstep, London can be a dangerous place for your bank balance. If you want to go out dancing consider inviting your friends around for drinks before you head out as drinks can be quite pricey in London bars and pubs. For eating out, check out voucher sites like Groupon or Livingsocial or even consider getting a Taste card. Living on a budget doesn’t have to mean eating beans on toast every night. 

Jilian Woods is studying for a master's degree in journalism from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute

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