This article was published by the Great British Mag content team on 9 February 2021.
So you’ve accepted a place at a UK university? Now it’s time to start preparing for your life here as an international student.
From sorting out visas to preparing for the weather and getting acquainted with Brits’ rather unique sense of humour, here is your ultimate checklist.
Apply for your student visa
Sure, this one’s obvious, but it’s a great place to start, we reckon. All international students – which now include EU and EEA citizens – need a student visa to come and study in the UK for longer than six months.
The earliest you can apply for your visa is six months before your course’s start date, and you’ll likely hear back within three weeks. You’ll need a valid passport and your Confirmation of Acceptance (CAS) number, which your university will provide you with. There may be some other documentation you’ll need too, such as proof of funds to support yourself, but this will become clear once you start the process.
There is a fee for the student visa application (£348 if you’re applying from outside the UK) and the healthcare surcharge is £470 a year.
You can apply for your visa on the UK government website.
Decide on your accommodation
Accommodation doesn’t come automatically with your place at uni, so you’ll need to get that sorted separately.
Your university will likely ask if you’d like to stay in their accommodation, which might be on campus but more likely to be near the campus. University halls can be great fun and give you an opportunity to make friends – they’re the popular option for most first-year students. Sometimes, international students are placed together in halls, so you may be living with other people from your home country.
Otherwise, you can look for private accommodation, which might be the way to go if you want to live alone or with fewer flatmates in a more traditional house set up. Your university can point you in the right direction here too, giving you names of some popular student rental companies, and you can use Amber Student, which lists thousands of student accommodation options to meet most needs and budgets.
Bear in mind that prices for accommodation can vary hugely depending on the area you choose to live in, so do your research to get a feel for what area you want to live in and find the best housing within your budget.
Prepare for the weather
There’s a good reason why Brits are constantly talking about the weather – it’s pretty unpredictable. While extreme weather and temperatures are rare, you can sometimes get rain, wind, sunshine and fog all within hours of each other, no matter what season it is.
So, it’s definitely safest to pack for all weathers – even if you’re coming at the height of summer or winter. Bring waterproofs like jackets and boots, warm clothes such as hats, scarves and coats, and lots of lighter layer options so you can dress appropriately for the fluctuating temperatures. An umbrella is a must too, as are sunglasses – you may need them both on the same day!
It’s worth downloading a decent weather app to your phone as well, so you can stay up to speed with what’s in store, weather-wise, every day.
Organise your luggage
Depending on how long you’re staying for and what you need to bring, you might get away with taking all your luggage with you on the plane when you travel over to the UK. Some airlines will let you take large suitcases or extra bags for a fee but others are more strict about how much you can bring, so be sure to check when you book your flight.
If you have lots of luggage, consider leaving some of it at home for when you go back to visit – you can always bring more with you when you return again after the holidays.
Or, if you really can’t part with any of it for longer than absolutely necessary, you might need to arrange for it to be brought over to the UK separately by a shipping company. So start making those packing lists to work out if you’ll need help getting it all to your new home.
Get your head around the lingo
If you’re coming to study in the UK, you’ll already have the language down. But – we hate to break it to you – there are huge variations in terms of regional colloquialisms and slang words that you won’t get from those English textbooks.
Despite Britain being a small isle, accents and dialects change drastically depending on where you are. In fact, the local accent changes quite dramatically every 25 miles!
No one actually talks like the queen. Sorry. The good news is you’ll probably pick up on the regional dialect of where you’re staying quite quickly, but some useful words to learn that are used nationwide are:
- Quid (pounds in money)
- Ta (thank you)
- Cheers (thank you)
- Chuffed (really happy)
- Knackered (tired)
- Gutted (disappointed)
Catch up on British TV
A good way to better understand popular culture in the UK is to start binge-watching British TV shows, new and old!
Some popular long-running series that you may become very well acquainted with (whether you like it or not) include The Great British Bake Off (expect tears over cake tiers and plentiful references to ‘soggy bottoms’), Doctor Who (a classic series about a time-travelling scientist that’s been running since 1963), and The Crown (a dramatisation of the royal family’s life from the start of Queen Elizabeth’s rule).
We’d also recommend some of our popular soaps, which maybe called dramas in your country. These are long running shows and one of the most popular in the UK is EastEnders, which has been airing for an impressive 30 years. You should also check out some of our comedy, including Gavin and Stacey and Fawlty Towers.
Get to know British humour
British humour is a funny thing (excuse the pun) and you may find it takes you a while to figure what people are laughing at in these parts. To help, you should check out our guide to British humour.
For instance, if you’re ever in a pub and hear a glass get smashed by the staff, be prepared for it to be swiftly followed by a loud communal cheer from the ‘punters’ (customers).
While no one will blame you for looking confused as the locals in the room roar with laughter at a joke you didn’t notice, it might help to get acquainted with some of the most common styles of humour. Try watching British TV series like The Inbetweeners, This Country, I’m Alan Partridge, The IT Crowd and The Office.
Be prepared for the politeness
Brits are a polite crowd. And we mean overly polite – ‘sorry’ and ‘thanks’ are two of our favourite words, with the average Brit saying sorry 233,660 times in their lives.
Even in casual situations with familiar people like friends and family, you’ll probably hear lots of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ bouncing around. And we even have a particular way of queuing, which you will have to accustom yourself with if you don’t want to hear disapproving comments.
Start making friends
Yep, you can do this way before you land on British soil. Your university or accommodation provider might have set-up Facebook groups or have an online forum where you can start chatting to other newbies. Your university will also have societies and clubs for international students that you can join via the Students Union, and they often arrange pre-arrival events and online chats.
Get to grips with the food
Historically, British food hasn’t had the best reputation. But we think this is wholly undeserved and that you’d really be missing out if you didn’t sample some of our traditional delights.
The only thing is, when you’re looking at menus for restaurants and takeaways, or your housemate offers you some dinner, it might not be obvious what you should expect to find on the plate that eventually gets presented to you.
It’s likely you’ll come across regional dishes, such as ‘scouse’ from Liverpool (a stew usually made with beef or lamb), as well as meals that have nicknames, like ‘chippy dinners’, which means a meal from a fish and chip shop, or ‘roasts’, which is a meal of roast meat with roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy.
If there are foods you think you’ll miss from home, consider taking some with you, if it’s allowed. That stash should tide you over until you find grocery stores who stock food from your country in your new neighbourhood.
Think about how you’ll contact home
It sounds obvious, but with time differences and the way we all heavily rely on strong internet connections, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll talk to family and friends back home while you’re overseas.
Perhaps your parent’s house doesn’t get great WiFi, or maybe your grandparents aren’t quite up to speed with the likes of WhatsApp, Facetime or Zoom.
Homesickness can creep in over those first few weeks when you’re adjusting to life in a new and unfamiliar country, so keeping in touch with people you’re close to should be a priority.
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