Plenty of British pop culture is in the mainstream consciousness. You probably have your own daydreams of what living in the UK would be like! From sampling local cuisine to seeing iconic places you’ve seen on TV, are you excited for your UK adventure? But what is it like to study in the UK as an international student? Here’s what you will need to know to make the most of your study abroad experience in the UK!
What You Need to Know as an International Student in the UK
1. Finding the Right Accommodation
Your mind may be full of university applications and getting a visa. Accommodation might slip lower on your to-do list. But you’ll likely be staying at whichever place you do rent out for at least a year. To make study in the UK as an international student comfortable, this is a key factor!
When looking into accommodation, you’ll typically have two options.
Halls of Residence
These are university-provided dormitories, or student housing. You may also have access to privately-owned halls of residence. But these will be off-campus, unlike university-owned halls!
Most first-year international students in the UK opt for on-campus halls. Staying on-campus gives you a home-base to start off from. You’ll be living with other students in the same boat as you, so it may be easier to connect and make friends! Plus, you live near your classes and other university services. You can rely on university help as you get familiar with student life at UK universities.
Some universities give preference to international students, as well as first years. So, you may have a better chance of scoring student accommodation, depending on the school! Factor your accommodation options into your university decision-making criteria.
i. Self-catered vs Catered Housing
Universities often offer either self-catered or catered accommodation. Self-catered means you’ll have access to a kitchen where you will be able to cook your own meals. This is typically the cheaper option, and one you may want to consider if you wish to control your own meals. If you choose the catered option, you can grab a bite at the canteen for three meals every day! Of course, this option tends to be costlier.
ii. Type of Room
Student life in the UK vs the US may differ a bit because most UK universities offer single occupancy rooms. You’re more likely to be occupying a bedroom by yourself, rather than sharing with another person. Nonetheless, there are university halls which offer double-rooms and other options. Depending on your needs, including factors like your budget and preferences, you’ll find the perfect option for you! The cost of these rooms usually covers facilities like Wi-Fi, utilities, and so on.
After the first-year, students tend to move off-campus into private housing nearby. If you’ve made friends also keen to rent a place off-campus, you may be able to split rent! Depending on where you’re living and your budget, sharing the rent with one or more flatmates is a cost-effective option.
It may be a bit daunting to look for private housing as an international student in the UK. The key is to do your research before you select a place and move in! Look into the accommodation options close to your campus. If you’re okay with living further off and commuting, expand your search to nearby towns. Whether you’re looking for apartments or houses to rent by yourself or share with others, you’ll find a range of options to choose from.
Connect with online communities to investigate which landlords and locations have good reviews. Through Facebook communities, you can also connect with current or previous tenants and the landlords. Online community forums are also a great way to find deals for things like second-hand furniture and appliances.
Remember, never pay in advance before meeting your landlord and seeing the property for yourself. We strongly advise you to visit the place you’re planning to rent and make sure you’re getting exactly what you’re promised, before signing any agreement.
2. Getting Around in the UK
Another way student life in the UK differs from, say, the US, is how easily and quickly you can travel around the country. Due to its small geographical size and dense, well-connected transport systems, you can travel between towns and cities at ease! In fact, you can also hop on to a train and travel to a European neighbour in as little as two hours, on any day of the week.
Your transport options when you study in the UK as an international student include:
- National Rail: An extensive rail network connects towns and cities across the UK. As an international student between the ages of 16 and 25, you can sign up for a 16-25 Railcard. The card costs £30 a year but can save you up to a third in train fares!
- Underground: The London underground, often called the Tube, is one of several underground railroads interconnecting a UK city. You’ll find similar networks tucked beneath Liverpool, Glasgow, and Tyne and Wear. These rapid transit services speed you over to stops letting you back up at specific locations overground.
- Travelcards: With this travel pass, you have unlimited passage via bus, the London underground, trams, overground rail, and National Rail services within London.
- Bus and Tram Passes: Most cities are well-connected with bus systems. And long-haul buses (coaches) are available to travel between towns, cities, and airports. For a single day’s journey, you can get a one-day pass. You have access to unlimited travel within London through the well-connected bus- and tram-networks for a day. You can also get seasonal passes on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis
- Oyster Cards: When studying in London, international students can also sign up for the +18 Student Oyster photocard. As full-time students, you can save 30% on Travelcards and seasonal travel passes.
- Eurostar: A popular reason international students travel to the UK is to explore both the UK and Europe. And the Eurostar line, which lets you travel to Brussels, Calais, Lille, and Paris in a handful of hours, lets you do just that!
Alongside all these transport options, there are also opportunities to take flights within and outside the UK. You’ll of course have access to rented cars and taxis – including the iconic London cabs within the city of London. Some cities also have options to rent bicycles, since bicycling is a popular means of getting about!
3. Trying Local and International Cuisine
Do you love British cooking shows, and follow celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Nigella Lawson? Then, you’ll know how diverse the cuisine is in the UK! You can try authentic British dishes like a full-English breakfast, Yorkshire puddings and classic fish and chips. And thanks to the rich history of cultural diversity in the UK, you can try food from around the world too! Whether you’re an Indian student living in the UK, or flying in from Ghana or Malaysia, you’ll find a place serving your favourite dishes.
Plus, you’ll also have access to specialty stores and supermarkets in multicultural districts. Here, you can purchase ingredients to make these dishes yourself! After all, good food isn’t just essential for living healthy. It also helps you find a piece of home when studying abroad.
4. Exploring What the UK Has to Offer as an International Student
From going on the Warner Bros Studio Tour to relive Harry Potter in person, to visiting the Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and other landmarks you’ve seen on TV, there’s plenty of iconic landmarks awaiting you.
The UK is also a popular destination regularly hosting major artists and celebrities in concert tour stops and film festivals! From sold-out stadium concerts at the O2 Arena and Wembley to intimate shows by indie artists in clubs and jazz bars, you can experience live musical performances across every genre of music. The UK is also home to a vast and lively theatre community, with live performances on every scale imaginable to experience.
You can visit famous spots like the British Museum, the National Gallery, and more. Artists and creators contribute to and host exhibits and galleries frequently in the UK and create art installations open to the public.
Sports is another major activity in the UK. Cricket, football, tennis, lacrosse, and many other sports are popular here. It’s not uncommon to watch a big match together with an entire pub – another hallmark of the culture in the UK – and celebrate or despair as one with the crowd.
Our Concluding Thoughts: Study in the UK as an International Student
Student life for those in UK universities is a culturally and personally enriching experience. You get to visit the same places you’ve seen in movies, but as the main character this time! From figuring out where to live, be it the on-campus experience or flat-sharing, to finding local haunts for your home cuisine or to try out new food, there is a lot to do. Knowing what to expect when studying abroad can help you feel better prepared to live in the UK. Plus, it helps you plan and know how to make the most of your experience! We hope our advice on what to expect when you study in the UK as an international student addresses your questions and doubts as you set off on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much does it cost to live in the UK as an international student?
Costs of living can vary within the UK, depending on where you’re staying, what type of accommodation you’re in, your lifestyle, etc. In terms of affordability, according to QS Top Universities’ Best Student Cities 2022, London ranks as the least affordable student city. Cities like Nottingham, Leicester, Edinburgh, etc. are more affordable!
There’s more to the cost of living than these broad estimates, though. Take a look at our breakdown of the cost of living in the UK for international students!
Is the UK good for international students?
The UK has a long and rich history of hosting international students. With generations of immigration, the UK is a very culturally diverse country. As a result, UK universities are very welcoming to international students! You will almost certainly find a piece of home here, be it through clubs and societies, entire neighbourhoods full of your cuisine and people from your part of the world, to other expressions of your background and culture.
According to QS Top Universities’ Best Student Cities 2022, London is the #1 student city not just in the UK, but worldwide! Edinburgh comes in at #12, with Glasgow at #28, and Manchester at #30.