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10 things international students should know about studying in the UK

Top tips to help international students in the UK understand the country’s unique university culture

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Grace McCabe

Content Writer, THE Student
May 10 2022
10 things international students should know about studying in the UK


Moving to the UK can be exciting and challenging in equal measures. There is so much to figure out and understand, and sometimes it can feel quite overwhelming, so if you’re thinking of moving to the UK, these are some tips to help you. 

1. Create a budget 

Student finances can be difficult to manage but budgeting can help you stay on top of your spending. 

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Make a monthly budget by listing your regular expenses. Remember to include rent, household bills, phone bills, transport costs, course equipment or books, socialising, healthcare and food. 

All students can access the Ucas budget calculator to check the average costs at their specific university. Other apps and websites can also help you build your own budget. 

2. Learn the healthcare system 

International students can access the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK by paying an immigration healthcare surcharge at the same time as sending their visa application. Students will be given an IHS number and must then include that on their visa application. 

Once their visa is granted, international students will have access to the NHS just like everyone else in the UK. This includes GP appointments, clinics and hospitals. Prescriptions, dental appointments and vision check-ups are not covered by the NHS and will therefore still come at a cost. 

Most universities across the UK have medical services and free counselling for all students, along with other support for mental and physical health. Students can also apply for NHS prescription prepayment certificates that can help reduce the cost of repeat prescriptions and other medication. You will need to register to join a dentist’s surgery when you arrive. Most dentists offer plans that are partially assisted by the NHS, which will keep costs down. You can also apply to join the NHS low-income scheme, which can help fund additional treatments such as fillings or root canals. 

3. What is student accommodation in the UK like? 

Accommodation plays a key role in the university experience. Many options are available for international students and they will be highlighted on your university’s website. Most institutions offer university-owned accommodation, often referred to as “halls” in the UK. Another option is privately owned accommodation, which includes rented flats and house shares. 

On-campus or university-owned accommodation is often the preferred choice for first-year students because it allows them to meet other students, make friends and take part in university events.  

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4. Student travel 

The UK has many options when it comes to travel. Anyone in the UK between the ages of 16 and 25 can buy a 16-25 Railcard, which reduces the cost of train tickets by one-third of the purchase price. Depending on the length of time you will spend in the UK, this can be purchased as a one-year (£30) or a three-year (£70) card.  

There is also a 26-30 railcard for older students. For discounted travel on buses, students can purchase a Young Persons Coachcard for £12.50 per year. While studying in the UK you could also travel to Europe (you may need to apply for a visa/s in advance), where the Interrail Global Pass allows young people to travel to 33 countries for a discounted fare. 

5. Working as an international student 

As an international student in the UK, working is allowed on a restricted basis. With a student visa, international students can work up to 20 hours each week. Once a visa is approved, more detailed information about course and personal allowances for working will be sent with the final approval details. 

International students have several options when it comes to finding a job. Each university will regularly advertise jobs on campus, which are great options for international students because they accommodate your degree requirements and usually hire based on term dates. If you are studying in a large city like London, you can also find a lot of jobs near your university, where employers are used to hiring students. 

6. UK student visas 

International students can apply for a student visa in the UK if they are over 16, have been offered a place at a licensed university, have proof of funds to cover tuition fees and living costs and can understand, speak and write in English. 

Alternatively, if you or your family are from the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein or started living in any of these countries before December 2020, you may be able to apply for the EU settlement scheme. 

The earliest you can apply is six months before your course is due to start and you should receive a response within a few weeks. 

7. UK university grading 

The grading system for undergraduate degrees in the UK uses honours, letters and percentages. You can achieve one of four honours qualification when you complete your degree. 

- First-Class Honours (first) - equivalent to an A. This requires an overall mark of 70 per cent or higher. This is the highest grade you can achieve and is often seen as an advantage when applying for master’s programmes or jobs. 
- Upper Second-Class Honours (2:1) - equivalent to a B. This grade requires an overall mark of 60-69 per cent. A 2:1 is the standard requirement for a master’s degree. 
- Lower Second-Class Honours (2:2) - equivalent to a C. This grade requires 50-59 per cent as a final grade. It is still accepted by some master’s programmes. 
- Third-Class Honours (3rd) - equivalent to a D. This final grade is awarded to students who achieve 45-49 per cent in their final exams and is still a pass. 
- If you score lower than 40-44 per cent, you can sometimes be awarded an ordinary degree. 
- Anything below 40 per cent is a fail. 

The grading system for postgraduate degrees is similar: 

-Distinction – a final grade of 70-100 per cent. 
- Merit – a final grade of 60-69 per cent. 
- Pass – a final grade of 50-59 per cent. 
- Fail – a final grade below 50 per cent. 

8. Geography of the UK 

The UK consists of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. International students wishing to study in the UK can select universities from any of these four countries.  

Each of these nations has individual histories and traditions that international students can explore, including different cuisines, accents, politics and traditions.  

9. British politeness 

Even though the UK is made up of different countries, its citizens share many similarities. British people tend to be very polite, have a profound sense of humour and are proud of their heritage. 

International students will find that manners are particularly important to British people. Timekeeping, politeness, tolerance and respect all play a significant role in how British people behave. For example, people often say “sorry” before speaking up or making a point. Other examples are holding open the door for people behind you or keeping quietly to yourself on public transport. 

10. British university culture 

Student life in the UK is dedicated not only to classes but to social and sports societies run by the student union. These societies provide students with a place to go to share their chosen hobby, beliefs or interests with peers. 

Some lecturers prefer a more relaxed environment, choosing to use their first names, work with students in smaller groups and develop a more personal relationship. Students are expected to do lots of self-motivated learning and depending on your chosen subject there may be extended reading, practical work or lab time set as part of the subject. 

The culture at universities in the UK is a unique experience and international students will find that these experiences are just as important to the shaping of their education as their time in the classroom itself. 

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