Are you an international student who is not quite sure what to expect when arriving in the UK? In this article, I’ll be giving you some of my top tips on how to best prepare yourself and what to expect when you arrive in the UK. Here are some of the most important things that should be on your ‘to do list’ when you get here.
1. HOW TO OPEN A BANK ACCOUNT AS AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT
If you are an overseas student who will be studying in the UK for a long period of time, it might be worth considering opening a student bank account. By opening a bank account in the UK you will avoid paying foreign currency charges, it will make paying bills much easier and it’s a good way to keep your money safe.
When you open a UK bank account it can be a long process. Most banks will require a lot of information around your identity and credit rating, so it’s a good idea to set one up as soon as possible. It might be worthwhile seeing if you can open a UK account whilst you are still living in your home country, that way when you arrive in the UK it’s one less thing you will need to worry about. If it’s not possible to open an account in your home country, and you need to wait until you arrive in the UK you will need to take the following documentation to the bank:
- A valid passport
- A valid visa (for non-EU international students)
- Proof of address (a tenancy agreement or utility bill)
- Proof of address in your home country
- Proof of student status (a letter from your University)
- Proof all income
It’s worth doing your research when you are deciding on who you will bank with, as some banks offer student bank accounts especially for International students, which can give you certain benefits and include things like interest-free overdrafts. However, some don’t but you can still open a regular bank account with them. You won’t be able to open a bank account online, you will need to visit your nearest branch and open your account in person. A bank account can take around 10 days to set up, so take enough cash with you to use during your first month at University. Prepaid cards are the best way to do this, as carrying large amounts of cash around can be unsafe.
2. ORGANISE YOUR OVERSEAS STUDENT ACCOMMODATION
You will need to sort out where you are living before you come to the UK. The best option for first-year foreign students is to look at accommodation provided by the University itself which is called ‘Halls of Residence’ or ‘Halls’. In the UK most rooms provided by University accommodation are single occupancy, which means you will have a room to yourself. It is very rare you will have to share a room with someone.
Prepare ahead for arranging your student accommodation, because there is usually a deadline you need to apply by. If you miss the deadline you may not secure yourself a room. In your second year, after you’ve settled in and made friends most students move away from student accommodation (‘halls of residence’) and rent a room or house together from a private landlord.
3. HOW TO USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT AS AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT
You will need to learn how to use public transport when you arrive in the UK. Try and work out how far away you will be living from your university and whether it is worth buying a student bus pass. This could save you money if you are planning on the using the bus regularly.
If you are living in a bigger city like London it will be quicker to take the Underground. For international students studying in London, it is definitely worth investing in an oyster card. You can buy a yearly pass which might work out cheaper, or you can top it up as you go. It is the cheapest and fastest option for travelling around London and it can be used on buses as well.
If you are planning any trips and visiting some different cities in the UK you could travel by coach or train.
If you choose to travel by train it is often much quicker, but it’s best to book your tickets as early as possible to get the cheapest deals. If you buy your train tickets at the last minute train prices will be very expensive. You can buy tickets months ahead with Trainline. If you find yourself using the train often, it might be worth buying a 16-25 Railcard, with a railcard you can get 1/3 off rail fares to travel across Britain.
Coaches take longer to get you to your destination, but they are much cheaper. If you travel with companies like Megabus you can travel for as little as £1.
If you are feeling brave enough to go on the British roads you can always travel by bike. It’s the cheapest way to get around, it’s great exercise, and it’s environmentally friendly.
4. WORK OUT HOW TO CALL HOME
It is very important to stay in touch with your family back home, so make sure you stay connected by having a phone and SIM card that works in the UK. Most current phones work in the UK, but it might be worth checking if you’re travelling from Japan or North/South America. The most important thing worth checking is your SIM card, without checking you could end up paying extremely high charges for calling back home. The UK has plenty of SIM deals. Some SIM’s are called ‘pay as you go’ and you top them up with money and when you run out you add more money again. However, there are other SIM cards available where you pay a fixed payment every month, and for that price, you will receive a certain number (or unlimited) texts and minutes you can use to call and text people. These are called ‘contracts’. The only problem with ‘contracts’ is that they come with a long-term commitment of 12 to 24 months. So sometimes they are not all available to international students, but there are a few deals out there.
Don’t forget there are also lots of free options available to us when calling home. Try FaceTime (for iOS devices), Skype, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
5. GO FOOD SHOPPING
There are 8 main Supermarkets in the UK. The cheapest supermarkets are Aldi and Lidl, and they sell their own brand of food, you won’t find well-known brands here.
Asda, Tesco and Morrisons are also cheap and have a wider range of well-known brands. Morrisons has the best Asian fresh vegetable selection. Waitrose is the luxury supermarket, and Sainsbury’s is mid-range. The UK also has M&S Food (Marks and Spencers) it isn’t the main supermarket, but it does have a very nice selection of luxurious food. Most of these main supermarket chains offer a home delivery service. So you can go on their website, order your groceries and get them delivered to your door.
6. VISIT YOUR UNIVERSITY CAMPUS
Once you’ve arrived in the UK, unpacked your things, and made yourself at home in your new student accommodation, you should go and explore your university campus. This is the best time to look around campus because there will be lots going on to welcome new international students. There will be people there to answer any questions you may have, people to take you on guided tours around the University. There will be various clubs and societies on campus who you can meet and sign up for if you’re interested, which is a great way to improve your English. When you visit campus it will also give you the opportunity to register so you can receive your student card.
Whilst on campus make sure you find your student union bar. The ‘SU Bar’ is a great place to meet new people, and have a few very cheap drinks with friends.
7. ARRANGE THE INTERNET FOR YOUR HOME
It is one thing any student can’t survive without, its the internet. It might not seem like the most obvious thing to organise straight away, but when you are an overseas student, studying abroad, you rely on the Internet for everything. You will need it to stay in touch with loved ones back home, you will probably use it in your free time to catch up on news and entertainment, and most importantly you will need to use it for your studies. The UK has some great comparison sites which help you find the cheapest deals for things like Internet providers. In the UK people will also refer to the internet as ‘Wi-Fi’, and Broadband.
8. GET HEALTH INSURANCE
When you move to a different country it can be a busy time, and there are lots of changes to get used to. Adjusting to a new climate, eating different food, getting into a new routine. With everything going on it can be very easy to pay less attention to your health, and when you’re poorly the last thing you want to worry about is health insurance. That’s why it’s so important to get this organised as soon as possible. If you’re an overseas student from a country outside the EU you’ll have to pay a health surcharge as part of your visa application. That will give you access to the NHS whilst you’re staying in the UK. However, your health surcharge won’t cover you for any losses you incur whilst ill or injured. Four example, having to cancel flights or lost course fees. It might be worth looking into travel insurance for international students, as well as your health surcharge.