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A practical guide to moving to the UK as a student

Studying abroad is the experience of a lifetime. You’ll have an untold number of opportunities,  make friends, grow your network and broaden your horizons. But there are nerves too – and lots of questions before you start packing your bags.  

So, if you’re considering moving to the UK to study for a pre-sessional English language course, a degree, or even a Ph.D., we have some top tips.  

Read on to explore our short guide to studying in the UK for international students. 

1. Setting up a bank account 

Unless you plan to stuff your money in your mattress (not recommended), you’ll probably need to open a bank account in the UK. The process is usually completed in one or two days and is much simpler if you do it once you’re living in the country.   

If you’re a student and come from abroad, you’ll need to show the bank a number of things before you can open your account, including: 

  • A valid passport and visa; 

  • Proof you are studying in the UK (your student ID or a letter from your university); 

  • Recent proof of address in the form of a utility bill that’s less than three months old (e.g. electricity bill); 

  • A bank or credit card statement that’s less than three months old. 

Note that the requirements may differ from bank to bank and you may also need to show proof of employment. Some banks, like HSBC, also allow you to set up your account in your own country before leaving for the UK.  

2. Student accommodation in the UK 

You have two main options when it comes to student accommodation in the UK:  

On-campus accommodation 

In the UK, on-campus student accommodation is often referred to as living in halls. When you apply to live in halls, you are given a room in shared accommodation. Your room is usually private, however you will often share bathrooms, kitchen, and other communal areas with other students.  

Living in halls is recommended if you’re coming from abroad. Not only does the university manage the housing, but it will be easier for you to find a place with other students.  

Shared student accommodation 

You can also opt to go through the university and find a place in privately rented accommodation. Second and third year students usually choose this option and move in with friends. Generally, this type of housing has been approved by the university, but you will be responsible for paying rent to a private landlord.  

Ask your university admissions department or student services about the right option for you.  

Alternatively, you may wish to rent privately, through a real estate agent. However, this is likely to be a far more expensive option and you won’t necessarily have university support. 

Average student rental prices 

The cost of living in the UK varies from region to region. According to a Save the Student survey in 2021, the average rent for students in the UK is £146 per week.  

Here’s the breakdown of costs: 

  • Scotland: £127 per week 

  • Northern England: £122  

  • Wales and the Midlands: £119 to £129 per week 

  • East Anglia: £132 per week 

  • Southwest: £147 per week 

  • Southeast:  £146 per week 

  • London:  £152 per week 

Living cost in the UK for international students 

On top of rent, you also have to consider how much food, leisure, transport, and other expenses will be. Our handy guide to living expenses in the UK for international students, outlines the following, and also compares costs in different cities: 

  • Groceries – £100 per month  

  • Going out – £46 per month  

  • Transportation– £46 per month  

  • Household bills (like electricity and water) – £37 per month 

  • University tuition fees for international students – £10,000–£38,000 per year (Reddin survey of university tuition fees) 

3. Health care systems in the UK 

The UK National Health Service (NHS) is a group of publicly funded healthcare systems. Each covers the healthcare needs of residents in England, Scotland, and Wales. In Northern Ireland, it’s officially known as the Health and Social Care system.  

UK residents are not charged for most medical treatments. However, they may have to pay for some prescriptions and standard charges apply for dental treatment.  

So what about the NHS for foreign students? 

If you are from the European Economic Area (EEA) and need emergency treatment, you may use the NHS free of charge with a valid European Health Insurance Card. Likewise, you may be entitled to free emergency treatment if your country has a reciprocal arrangement with the UK.  

On the other hand, if you are not an EEA national, and will be in the UK for more than 6 months, you will be required to pay an immigration health surcharge on top of your visa cost. This will entitle you to free NHS treatment. This includes international students, however you receive a discount on this fee.  

Find out more about your healthcare payment obligations as an international student in the UK.  

Register with a general practitioner (GP) 

Once you arrive in the UK, you’ll need to register with a GP at your local doctor’s surgery​​ so you can access health care. Note that hospital Accident and Emergency departments (A&E) are only for urgent medical care.  

Private health insurance 

Medical insurance is also an option, as both private and public health care is available in the UK.  

4. Driving in the UK 

You probably already know that you have to drive on the left in the UK (if you don’t – that’s important!). But how can you drive legally in the country?  

  • To drive a car or motorbike in the UK, you must be at least 17 years old. Bus or lorry drivers need to be at least 21. 

  • If you have a full, valid driving license – you can drive for 12 months before you need to take a driving test or exchange it  

There are different rules, depending on where your driving licence was issued. 

If you’re a European Union license holder: 

You can keep driving without an International Driving Permit. You will need to carry an insurance green card (or similar) to prove your vehicle is insured if it is registered in: 

  • The EU 

  • Andorra 

  • Iceland  

  • Liechtenstein 

  • Norway 

  • Serbia  

  • Switzerland 

You must change your EU license to a UK one: 

  • 3 years after you become resident 

  • Or if you reach the age of 70 

If you’re a non-EU license holder: 

You can drive in the UK for 12 months. After this time, you’ll need to get a provisional UK license, then pass the UK driving test. 

Car insurance requirements 

At a minimum, you must have third-party coverage to drive in the UK. If you have an accident or injure someone, the insurance company will cover costs. However, third-party insurance doesn't cover repairs to your own vehicle.  

For more information on driving, please visit the UK government website or this helpful guide. 

5. Employment options  

Most international students in the UK opt to work to support their studies. There are different rules for different visas and study:

Degree-level for more than six months 

If you are studying at degree-level for more than six months, you will probably be permitted to work up to 20 hours a week in term time and full-time during vacation time. 

Foundation subject for more than six months 

If you are studying a pre-sessional English course or a foundation subject, you will only be permitted to work for ten hours a week. 

Studying on a short term visa 

You can’t work in the UK if you hold a short-term visa as an international student. 

The new Graduate Immigration Route 

The Graduate Immigration Route is a type of post-study work visa, which was implemented in July 2021. Graduates can work for up to two years after a degree-level qualification and up to three years after completing a Ph.D. 

In all cases, be sure to confirm your visa conditions with an immigration adviser before starting work. For more information, see the UKCISA website. 

Student life in the UK: Your next great adventure 

Once you have control of all your paperwork, student life in the UK is exciting – and we’re sure it will be full of positive adventures.  

While it might seem a little overwhelming, remember you won’t have to do everything yourself. Your future universities will provide support, advice, and resources to help you. And when you arrive, you’ll be joining a thriving international community of students.  

PTE Academic helps you prove your level of English for visa and study purposes – and is accepted by 99% of UK universities.  

Find out more about how it can help you achieve your goals of living and studying in the UK.