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A Student's Guide to Living in the UK

by the University of Sheffield International Office

Travelling to the UK


All overseas students wishing to study in the UK will need to obtain a visa before arrival. There are strict rules governing the requirements for obtaining a UK study visa and most universities will be able to offer you advice and guidance on this before you apply for your visa. For more information on visas, see our UK Visa Guide for Postgraduate Students or the UK Border Agency Web Site

When you travel to the UK, ensure that you carry all your important documents (including letters from the University) in your hand luggage, as you may need to show these at immigration.

Before you leave

Before you leave for the UK, make sure that you have booked accommodation for at least the first two nights. This could be university accommodation (see below), but if you have not arranged this before you leave then you should book a room in a local hotel for at least the first couple of nights. Remember that it might be late at night when you arrive and it is not always easy to find accommodation in an unfamiliar city.

What you should bring

You do not need to bring everything with you! Many items, such as cooking equipment, kettles, bed linen etc., are widely available and inexpensive to buy in the UK. However, the following items may be useful:

  • All information sent to you by your University
  • All important documents, including medical documents
  • A dictionary and some basic course reference books in your own language
  • An international driving licence (if you have one)
  • Lap-top computer (if you have one)
  • UK adaptor plugs for your electronic equipment
  • Warm clothing – bring at least one warm jumper and a jacket, but if you are coming from a warm climate then remember it will be easier to buy most of your winter clothing in the UK
  • Clothing for warm weather, if you will be in the UK over the summer months
  • National or traditional dress – there may be special occasions when you will want to wear this, eg. university cultural evenings etc.
  • Photographs of family and friends to decorate your new room and help you feel less lonely
  • Favourite books/posters/music etc.
  • Souvenirs or small items from your country to give as gifts to your new friends

Travel within the UK

If you wish to drive a car in the UK then you MUST ensure that you have a driving licence valid for use in the UK. It is illegal and a criminal offence to drive in the UK without a valid licence. It is very important that you check the latest guidelines on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) website: http://www.dft.gov.uk/dvla/ . You must also make sure that you have valid motor insurance and that the vehicle you are driving has a valid tax disc. All traffic in the UK drives on the left.

Most students find it easier to use public transport to get around the UK. You can travel by coach/bus or by train. Travelling by coach or bus is usually the cheapest way to travel, although journey times can be longer. Train travel can be more expensive if you do not book your ticket in advance, however if you book your journey early then you can often buy tickets at reduced prices.

Regions of the UK

The UK is a varied country and although quality of higher education is high throughout, your living experience may be very different depending on where you live and what you are looking for. The UK is made up of 4 regions, England – the largest, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each with something unique to offer. If you are used to big cities, the convenience of round-the-clock services and the hustle and bustle of urban life, then you may wish to opt for some of the largest cities in the UK: London, Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow. But it is possible to find cities and towns with a significant student populations (and associated atmosphere) in all parts of the UK, from Aberdeen, in the Northeast of Scotland to Kent in the Southern tip of England.


University accommodation

Most universities can offer dedicated student accommodation for their students – usually on or near the main university campus. Accommodation can be at a premium, especially for universities in the cities (due to space restrictions) and can be restricted to overseas students. Every university is different, but a typical student bedroom will consist of a bed, study desk, storage cupboard(s) and often a private bathroom. Internet access is usually available in the room. Most students in these types of rooms would then share a communal kitchen/living area with between 5 and 10 other students. There are deadlines for applying for accommodation so make sure you check on your university’s website.

Students coming to the UK with their family can sometimes request special family accommodation, which consists of private bedroom(s), bathroom, kitchen and living space. You should apply for this as early as you can as places are often limited.

University accommodation costs vary, but usually include utilities (electricity, water, gas etc.), internet and council tax.

Private accommodation

If you do not wish to stay in university accommodation, most cities offer a good range of private accommodation. You can either book this through a letting agency or through an independent landlord. It is important that you check the reputation of your chosen agency/landlord before signing a contract - most universities will have a list of approved agencies/landlords which you can use.

Private accommodation rates can be cheaper than university accommodation, but they often do not include utilities (electricity, water, gas etc.), internet or council tax. It is important to allow for these additional costs when you are working out your accommodation budget!


Before you arrive

You must make sure that your immunisations are up-to-date, and remember to pack your immunisation record in your hand luggage. Your doctor should be able to advise you which immunisations you need to have before you travel to the UK. You should also make sure that you have comprehensive medical insurance. You will need this if there is a medical emergency and you need to return home, or if you are seriously ill and a close relative needs to fly to the UK to see you.

In the UK

All international students registered on full-time courses lasting at least 6 months (and their dependants) are entitled to use the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS provides free registration and consultation with an NHS Doctor (GP) or Nurse, free hospital treatment (if referred by a doctor) and a standard charge of £7.10 for each item of prescribed medicine, except in Scotland where prescriptions are free.

The UK Government has had plans to introduce a health care levy, similar to that in Australia, for some overseas students. If introduced and if applicable, this would be charged at the point of visa application so make sure you check the latest developments so that you are not caught short.

Most universities have their own University Health Centre where you can register for the above services. You should check this with your university when you arrive in the UK.

Dental treatment can be provided under the NHS at a registered NHS dentist. However, it can be very difficult to find an NHS dentist, as most do not have space for new patients. Most dentists will offer private treatment, but this can be expensive. It is recommended that you have a full check-up and any necessary treatment before you leave for the UK.


Tuition fees and living costs

Before you arrive in the UK you should make sure that you have enough money to cover your stay. You will need to pay for tuition fees, accommodation and other living costs such as food, clothing, transport, books etc. These costs vary depending on which university you have chosen, but every university should send you detailed information about tuition fees and living costs before you arrive. It is very difficult to find extra funding once you are in the UK, so it is very important that you know how you are going to pay your fees before you arrive.


Some universities offer a range of scholarships to international students. You should check with your chosen university to find out whether you are eligible for a scholarship.


You should open a UK bank account as soon as you can after you arrive in the UK. It can take some time to open a bank account, so you must make sure you have access to enough cash to last you for the first few weeks.

Most banks will offer slightly different products, so make sure you choose the bank which is best for you. You should choose one which has a local branch near your university campus/accommodation, as most banks are only open from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.

Working in the UK

International students on full-time programmes of at least degree level are currently permitted to work for a maximum of 20 hours a week during term-time. If you work more than this then you will be breaching the conditions of your visa and you may be requested to leave the UK. Rates of pay for part-time work vary, but the national minimum wage for those over the age of 21 is £6.31 per hour.

UK Life and Culture

Food and Drink

Food and drink from all areas of the world is widely available in the UK. Most big supermarkets stock food from many different countries, and there are also supermarkets which cater specifically for certain areas (eg. Chinese/East Asian supermarkets, African supermarkets etc.). Contrary to popular belief, British people do not only eat fish and chips!

Eating out is a popular activity and there are lots of restaurants to choose from. Prices vary but many restaurants offer special deals for students – always check this before you book.

Tap water is safe to drink in the UK.


The UK is a multi-faith society, with every major world religion represented.  Most universities provide worship facilities on campus, and you are also free to join local religious centres.


British weather can be very unpredictable, and it is not unusual for the weather to change dramatically from day to day. Typically, the summer is warm and sunny (with average temperatures of 22-25°C) and the winter is cold (with average temperatures of 0-5°C). It can rain at any time of year in the UK, so many people always carry a small umbrella with them. It is also usual to have some snow during the winter months, although the amount varies from year to year. As long as you dress appropriately for the weather you should not get too hot or too cold. The weather rarely stops people in the UK from doing anything!


The UK offers a wide range of entertainment options. Many British people enjoy eating and drinking and there are a very large number of cafés, bars and restaurants to choose from. Most large towns and cities have at least one cinema and bowling alley. Sport is a national pastime and there are many opportunities for both participating in and/or watching sport. Shopping is also very popular and most cities have a purpose-built shopping centre. Normal shopping hours are 9am-5:30pm, but shopping centres are often open later, until 8pm or 9pm. However, opening hours are limited on Sundays and most shops will only open from 10am – 4pm. You may even find that some smaller shops do not open at all on a Sunday. 

This article was written for FindAPhD.com by the University of Sheffield International Office.

It may not be reproduced without permission.

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