Preparing ahead of time is the best way to ensure a stress-free start to your studies.
Once you’ve got your place on a course, you’ll need to focus on getting your student visa first – it’s essential!
After that, we also recommend arranging accommodation and travel plans in advance.
Arriving and getting around
Your life as an international student begins when you arrive at an airport, rail station, or boat terminal in the UK. You’ll need to show a valid passport and visa in order to get into the country.
Border officials may also ask to see:
- An offer letter to study at your university
- Your Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number
- Bank statements showing proof of finances
- Details of where you’re going to stay
Many universities offer airport transfer services for international students, making it easy to get to your accommodation after arriving. Taxis or public transport are also an option – it’s worth checking the route and booking in advance if you want to organise this yourself.
Your cost of living and studying in the UK will depend on your lifestyle, as well as what kind of accommodation you choose. Depending on where you're coming from, it may seem more expensive, or cheaper.
The British Council suggests that for accommodation, bills, and normal day-to-day expenses, international students can expect to pay:
- Around £900 to £1,300 per month if you’re living outside of London
- Around £1,300 to £1,400 per month if you’re living in London
Leaving your home country and your family, changing your lifestyle, and adjusting to a new culture can often cause feelings of anxiety. It’s a natural and temporary reaction, but there are lots of great ways to reduce feelings of culture shock and quickly settle into your life as a UK student.
Here's some advice to help you know what to expect.
Speaking English as a second language can be a challenge, especially if you aren’t feeling confident in your skills yet.
The UK is also known for its wide range of dialects and accents, which can even make it a challenge for British people to understand each other sometimes, with many different 'British' accents.
Just remember that it’s ok to not be fluent in English – the UK is a very multicultural country, and people will be happy to repeat themselves or speak more slowly if you need them to.
Changes in the food you can find, and how easily, can often be a big factor in culture shock or feeling ‘homesick’.
You might want to research any shops that stock food items from your country so you can cook your favourite dishes at home. Most of the major supermarket chains stock a wide range of foods, and many have entire international food aisles. If you live in a city or large town, you can usually find specialised supermarkets that may stock a larger variety of ingredients from around the world.
In most cities you can usually find a variety of restaurants which offer a wide range of international cuisines. But, you should find opportunities to try traditional British cuisine when you can. It’s all part of the experience, and you might even discover some new favourite foods.
Feeling isolated after moving overseas can be unpleasant. Making friends and being part of a community is a wonderful way to get support while you transition into UK life. You’ll also have fun, learn more about other cultures, and make friends for life.
Your university’s international office will usually organise orientation and other social events, which are a great way to meet other international students early on. You can also meet UK students through your course, by joining a club, society or sports team at your university, at other events, or even in your accommodation.
While it can feel scary at first, getting out of your comfort zone and being proactive in meeting or talking with others always has fantastic results.
Climate and weather
Moving to the UK can be a shock for students who are used to higher temperatures or different weather patterns.
The British weather is often talked about being unpredictable, and it often does change several times during the day. While the summers can be hot, rain is always around the corner. Winters will have periods of sub-zero temperatures, with a small amount of snow often occurring. The north of the country is generally colder than the south by a few degrees.
The length of days can vary widely throughout the year. You can expect just over eight hours of daylight in winter, while during the longest summer days the sun can be up for more than sixteen hours. The sun rises about 8am sets about 4pm during the winter, but rises at 4am and sets at 10pm in the summer – leading to a very different experience.
It’s a good idea to look at what the weather will be like during the season you arrive, and pack for different weather types. A good coat and an umbrella is always wise!
Like every country, the UK has a culture with characteristics that may feel odd or confusing to new arrivals. However, understanding the unique culture of your new home is one of the most fun and satisfying parts of studying overseas.
To help you start your journey of discovery, here are a few key features of UK culture worth keeping in mind:
- British people value politeness, including queuing, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and being on time to any appointments
- Don’t worry if people don’t seem very open or talkative at first, it can take time for them to open up
- British 'humour' is known for being sarcastic and dry, and is often misinterprested as being rude by some cultures, and is often used to ease tense situations, so keep that in mind as you meet new people!
- The UK is a socially liberal country and values everybody’s right to be themselves. People may dress differently to what you’re used to, show affection in public, or express their sexual orientation openly
- Drinking alcohol is widespread and a way of socialising with your friends and family, but you don’t need to drink if you don’t want to
UK rules and laws
It’s important to make sure you’re aware of any rules that may be different to your home country.
Some that might be new to you include:
- It’s illegal to smoke in public buildings, including restaurants, pubs and public transport. You also can’t smoke in university accommodation or on campus, apart from in specific areas
- Vehicles drive on the left. Watch out for bicycles as well as cars and buses when crossing the road, and use a pedestrian crossing point if it’s busy
- It's illegal to discriminate against anyone, including verbally, for their race, religion, gender, sexuality or any disability