10 things international students should know about studying in the UK

10 things international students should know about studying in the UK know

This article about 10 things international students should know about studying in the UK was published by the Great British Mag content team on 7 February, 2020

Moving to the UK can be both exciting and challenging in equal measures. There is so much to figure out that sometimes it feels a tad overwhelming. If you’re thinking about applying for a course in the UK as an international student, here’s everything you need to know.

Is studying in the UK expensive?

Budgeting is key! Make sure you consider course fees, rent, food, NHS surcharge, mobile phone, internet, bank fees, transportation costs – local, trips, going home – socialising, books and other course materials.

A number of apps and online tools are available, including the International Student Calculator, to help you forecast how much your regular expenses will amount to. Also check your university’s website to work out what the local costs are for things like accommodation.

British humour

They say the best way to become someone’s friend is to make them laugh, but hitting the sweet spot with British humour can be quite difficult. One of the biggest types of British humour is sarcasm. If you’re not familiar with it, it can be quite difficult to pull off. It’s essentially saying one thing and often meaning the complete opposite. For example, if it’s raining outside, a sarcastic joke might be: ‘Lovely weather we’re having!’

Other forms of quintessentially British humour are through pantomimes, satire, slapstick (like Monty Python or The Benny Hill Show), understatement and making fun of the class system.

How to access healthcare

After you pay the National Health Service (NHS) surcharge, you’re entitled to access the country’s health service. This means you can see a doctor, receive emergency treatment and access compulsory psychiatric treatment for free. But be aware: not every treatment is covered by the NHS and you will still need to pay for prescriptions, vaccinations, dental care and optical care.

You can also get help if you’re having trouble with your mental health. Most universities and colleges have a free and confidential counselling service you can access, with professionally qualified counsellors. You can also discuss things like anxiety, stress and depression through an NHS doctor.

Student accommodation

Sorting out where you’re going to live in the UK can be a mammoth task, but it’s important to get it right. There are a few options you can choose from, including university-owned student accommodation, privately-rented student accommodation and renting a regular flat, studio or house. Student halls are the best way to meet new people and make friends, even if you might have to learn to share a bit.

Working while studying

The general student visa (Tier 4) allows you to work while studying in the UK, but your weekly hours and the types of jobs you can hold will be restricted. Typically, you are permitted to work up to 20 hours a week but you should double-check this. The exact number of hours you’re allowed to work depends on a number of factors, so make sure to check the Home Office website.


One of the biggest cultural differences of being in the UK is the obsession British people have with being polite. One of the most common examples of this is saying sorry, even if you’re not necessarily apologising for something. For example, if you’re trying to ask a friend a question, you might say: ‘Sorry, can I ask you a question?’ Politeness also extends to things like queuing respectfully, as well as saying thank you or excuse me. This inoffensive way of communicating is a staple within UK culture.

Student travel

There are lots of ways to get around the UK, including trains, buses, ferries, trams, bikes, taxis and good old fashioned walking. For travelling around the UK, you can buy the 16-25 railcard for just £30. Once you have the railcard, you can purchase tickets for around the UK with a third off the regular adult price. If you’re going to be in London, our comprehensive transport guide will tell you everything you need to know.

Fancy some cheaper student travel around Europe too? The Eurail Youth Pass gives you a discount of up to 25% on standard adult prices, allowing you to travel to up to 33 countries around Europe.

What to organise before you arrive in the UK

There are loads of things people can organise pre-arrival into the UK to start their university courses. Here are just a few:

  • UK bank account: You’ll need to open a UK bank account if you want to withdraw cash without bank fees, set up direct debits or work part-time. UniZest can open a bank account in the UK for you even before you have a permanent address.
  • Accommodation: It’s possible to set up your university housing or other purpose-built student accommodation before you arrive in the UK, as they’re arranged through your university and are fairly uncomplicated.
  • UK phone number: Worried about how you’ll communicate with friends and family back home while you’re in the UK? Using Great British Mag’s ‘Survival Service’, you can get it all set up and sent to your home country.
  • Travel insurance: Organising travel insurance before you arrive in the UK can provide a safety net in case your luggage goes missing, you experience sickness or you can’t pay course fees. Endsleigh Insurance can help give you that peace of mind.

Student visas

The most common student visa type for international students is the general student visa (Tier 4), which allows you to work part-time. But there are some other student visa options too. You can apply for the Tier 4 (Child) student visa if you’re aged between 4 and 17 and you want to study at an independent school in the UK. Alternatively, you can apply for a short-term study visa for a period of six or 11 months if you’re over 16 years old and you’re studying an English language course.

British university culture

From drinking tea to having a pint in the local pub, university culture in the UK is quite unique. A backbone of student social life are societies – clubs and organisations run by the university’s student union. There are student societies for sports, hobbies, politics, religion, entertainment, activism and gender/sexuality.

As for the education side of it, typical classes emphasise critical thinking and self-motivated learning, with some lecturers even encouraging you to call them by their first names. You may be expected to do lots of reading in your own time and depending on your subject, you may also have labs, practical workshops and work experience as part of your curriculum. While you’re ultimately at university to study and learn, it’s absolutely worth getting amongst the social scene too.