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Advice for international students coming to the UK

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If you’re reading this, congratulations! You have probably either secured yourself a place at an educational institution in the United Kingdom, or even if you are only beginning to think about applying for a place, this is a great place to start.

You have worked hard, done lots of research on your university and you’re starting to prepare for your exciting new adventure in a strange new land. However, it is best not to underestimate the challenges that come with moving to a new country. Here are my top tips for preparing, arriving and thriving in the UK.

Before you arrive

1. Packing is going to become the bane of your summer during this time. Stick to the absolute essentials, because supermarkets and stores will have everything you need and will not be too expensive if you go to home living stores like Wilko or Ikea. Trust me when I say you will accumulate belongings as you spend more time in the UK, so it is best to start off light. Besides that, dragging four suitcases through Heathrow will be an absolute nightmare (I say this from experience!). Here is a list of things you absolutely must have in your suitcase:

  • Adapters for your electronic gadgets (you would be surprised as to how frustrating it will be to not be able to charge your phone!)
  • A raincoat, because everything you have ever heard about English weather is absolutely true
  • Mementos to remind you of home for the days you feel homesick
  • All relevant travel documentation

Which leads on to my next point…

2. Apply for your visa as early as possible. In fact, it is best to begin the process as soon as you’ve confirmed your place at university. Unless you are an EEA/Swiss national, it is likely that you will be applying for the Tier 4 Student (General) Visa, which grants you permission to study in the UK for the duration of your course. Different rules apply to different countries, but the bottom line is that it can take up to six weeks to process a visa, and you don’t want to miss your flight because of a delay, or god forbid, the first few days of Freshers’ Week.

3. Besides that, start your accommodation hunt as early as possible as well. It doesn’t hurt to start this even before you receive your examination results, as it will be a complicated journey to your ideal living arrangement. This is made even more complex by the fact that you are likely to be unable to view your new house, flat or hall of residence. The internet will be your best resource for information. This website is by far the best to use if you’re looking for off-campus or private accommodation, but in my opinion the best way to kick start your new life in the UK is to live in halls, especially if you are an undergraduate. There is no better way to integrate into a new culture than to share a floor with people who are very much in the same situation; nervous and keen to connect with a brand new set of friends. Have a look on The Student Room for honest reviews of on-campus accommodation.

The week of your arrival

1. If your university provides an international student orientation programme, I would highly recommend going for it. Not only do you get to meet people from a myriad of countries, you get tailored advice just for international students. My university gave us folders of information including a ‘moving-in checklist’, a list of banks with student accounts, and all I needed to know about public transport, signing up for classes and the university itself.

2. Before you set up your bank account it is important to do your research. If your institution does not provide advice in this area, Money Saving Expert is a great website that compares different bank accounts according to your preferences. One thing to look out for is how much your bank charges you for international money transfers. You don’t want to accrue high charges if you need your parents to send you emergency cash.

Everything after

You should be all set now. Settled in, going to classes and possibly cursing at how blustery English winds can be. It is important to remember that education can be found in more places than the lecture hall or seminar room. Get stuck in by joining sports and societies, seek part-time job opportunities, speak to people who aren’t necessarily from the same course or country. You are here to open up your eyes to a brand new world, and I guarantee you won’t regret it if you do.

If you are looking for even more advice, head on over to The UK Council for International Student Affairs. It is an incredibly in-depth website that can answer all of your burning questions. Good luck!

P.S. Do not be alarmed by how much people drink in the UK. You are very welcome to partake in the consumption of alcohol but do not be pressured into drinking if you don’t want to! Peer pressure is never cool.

Do you have any more advice for international students coming to the UK? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo: Geraint Rowland / Flickr

Currently a Marketing Executive at The Beans Group. Third culture kid, expert instant ramen chef, social media-addicted young person on the cusp of what they call ‘adulthood’. Passionate about entertainment, my job and the occasional masochistic 5k run.
Brenda WongAdvice for international students coming to the UK

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