Moving To London As An International Student

Moving to London as an international student is daunting. Not only are you moving to the UK, you’re moving to the capital city. That said, if you’re well prepared you have nothing to worry about when it comes to the big move. London is a culturally rich city, with lots of history, diversity and tons of opportunities. To live in London is a truly incredible life experience.

So what do you need to know about when it comes to moving to London from abroad to start university? In this guide we will cover absolutely everything from student visas, to bank accounts, phone contracts, where to live and what to expect. So without further ado, let’s dive in!

Student Visa

If you know you don’t need a visa, feel free to skip this section, but if you do, read on below to find out more information. Sorting out your student visa is likely to be one of the most important things that you do before moving to London as an international student.

Visa applications can be tricky, so always be sure to check gov.uk (the official UK government website) for the latest information and updates. Seek help from your university or immigration officer if you ever have any questions. It’s always best to consult with a professional when it comes to your student visa.

Applying for your student visa

You can apply for your student visa on gov.uk, the official UK government website. Your student visa will cost you £348 if applying from outside the UK. The earliest you can apply for your student visa is 6 months before you are due to start your course. You should have a decision within 3 weeks of submitting your application.

Financial eligibility

You’ll need to have financial eligibility for your student visa to be accepted. You will need to show that you have enough money to pay for your course and to support yourself in the UK. The exact figures of how much you will need will depend on your specific circumstances, so check out the gov.uk website for up to date information.

At the time of writing, you need to have £1,334 per month (for up to 9 months) available for courses in London. You must have this money in your account for at least 28 consecutive days. The end date of the 28-day period must be within 31 days of the date you apply for your visa.

How long can you stay in the UK?

If studying in the UK at degree level, you can usually stay in the UK for up to 5 years. If you would like to stay in the UK for longer, you may apply for a graduate visa, or apply to extend your visa if you are eligible to do so. Again, you can head to the gov.uk website to find out more about your visa options.

Bank accounts for international students

The best bank accounts in London for international students are the ones with the most flexibility. You’ll need a UK bank account so that you’re not charged currency conversion fees every time you use an ATM or pay with your card. It’ll also make it easier to pay back your friends and deal with any banking issues you may have. As a one-time international student myself, this is super important and makes life so much easier.

As an international student, you may need to provide documentation such as you current passport, visa (if applicable), bank statement dated within the last 3 months, proof of address, and student ID or acceptance letter from your university.

You will want to consider any international transfer fees, whether you need an overdraft, and where the bank is located (ideally a digital bank or a bank with a branch in your university town is great). With these things in mind, we’ve created tables below showing the best bank accounts in London for international students.

Digital banks

There are several banks which have great tools such as budgeting trackers and saving pot features. This can make it really easy to manage your money as a university student in London. However, the main drawback of these challenger banks is that these banks do not offer student-specific accounts.

BankKey featuresDrawbacks
MonzoFree to open, free to use. Budgeting features, Monzo saving pots, no foreign transaction fees when using your card abroad. Must have a UK address to open an account. No student-specific bank account. Charges overdraft fees. Monzo uses Wise for international transfers, with associated fees.
StarlingFree to open, free to use. Budgeting features, Starling saving spaces, no charge for using your debit card abroad. Starling accept letters from your university that can confirm your term time address if they are signed and dated within the last 3 months.No student-specific bank account. Charges overdraft fees. 0.4% fee to the currency conversion and a small delivery fee for international transfers.

International student bank account options

With student bank accounts, it’s important to weigh up which benefits you’re most likely to need, and how you’ll be using the account. Will you need an overdraft? Will you need to send money abroad? How often will you be receiving money from abroad? Will you be getting a UK phone number?

BankKey featuresDrawbacks
NatWest Select AccountFree to open, free to use. Low international transfer fees- sending money abroad is free. Receiving money from abroad in Euros is free, and in other currencies is £1 to receive £100 or less, and £7 for anything above £100. Charges overdraft fees.
Barclays Student Additions AccountInterest free student overdraft (up to £1,500 in your third year of university). Low international transfer fees. Sending money abroad is free. Receiving money from abroad in Euros is free. Other currencies are free to receive under £100, and £6 for amounts over £100.You must have a UK phone number to apply.
HSBC Bank Account For International StudentsSending money abroad to HSBC accounts is free. Sending money to non-HSBC accounts in EEA countries in Euros is free. Sending money to non-HSBC accounts in all other countries is £5. Receiving money from EEA countries in euros is free. Receiving money from countries outside the UK is £5. No overdraft available. The international fees are more expensive than other accounts on the list.

Bank transfer services

An alternative to using your bank account to transfer money, is to use Wise. This is the service that is also used by the likes of Monzo Bank.

Wise is a service that allows you to make low cost international bank transfers. You can transfer money using your debit card, and that money will be directly paid into the recipient’s bank account. Why are the transfers so low cost? It’s because Wise uses the real exchange rate.

There’s also a calculator on their homepage so that you can check the exact fees and rates before you decide to transfer money. It’s totally free to create an account, and it’s a pretty important service to sign up to if you’re an international student. Sign up here.

UK phone contracts and SIM cards

When you’re moving to London as an international student, it’s a good idea to get a UK phone number to avoid costly fees for using your mobile away from your home country. There are a multitude of providers who all have their merits- the main thing to decide is whether you’d like to opt for a contract with handset, or a SIM-only contract. (I’d go for the SIM-only contract if you already have a handset!)

O2 Mobile

O2 mobile is my first choice of mobile provider, with excellent coverage across the UK. In fact, it’s the largest network with 23.8 million customers across the country! O2 also offer roaming in a total of 27 international destinations across the world- so you could even check to see whether you can use them in your home town.

As you’ll be moving to London as an international student and most likely wanting to save money where possible, a O2 mobile SIM-only plan is probably going to be the best deal for you. You can use your existing handset, and just switch out the SIM card when you go back to visit your hometown. You can choose from a 30 day rolling plan, or a 12 month contract.

There are lots of plans to choose from, with plans starting from just £10 per month!

With O2 mobile you’ll also receive access to exclusive O2 Priority freebies, treats and discounts via the app, which is a great perk!

👀📱 Check out O2 mobile here

Travelling to London

If you’re on a student visa, and your course is due to last for longer than 6 months, you can arrive in the UK up to one month before your course is due to start. If your course is going to last for less than 6 months, you can arrive in the UK up to a week before your course is due to start.

Getting to London doesn’t need to be complicated. The main airports are Heathrow and Gatwick. There are very frequent trains that run directly into central London from both Heathrow and Gatwick. If you have a lot of luggage, you may wish to opt for an airport transfer. This is a more expensive option, but you will struggle on the train if you have more than one suitcase.

You can formally book a transfer, otherwise Uber and Bolt are popular ride share apps in Greater London.

Where to live in London

As an international student in London, and even a student moving to London from the UK, the best place that you can live for your first year in the city is in student halls of residence. Student halls are usually owned by or recommended by your university.

Student halls are great because they are a great opportunity to meet new people and make some friends that go to the same university. It’s also a safe option for accommodation, especially if you are moving to London as an international student in a new country, and are yet to get your bearings.

There are likely to be multiple different options for Halls Of Residence accommodation, each will have their own pros and cons. Consider your non-negotiables. What area of London do you want to be in? What is your budget? How many flatmates would you prefer? This will help you to narrow down your options and decide which accommodation is right for you.

Student accommodation in London can often be very centrally located- it could be the chance to live in central London- a chance that not many people get to have! You can use a map of The London Underground to see how London is split into different ‘zones.’ Zone 1 is the most centrally located area of London. Research the neighbourhoods in which student accommodation is available from your university, and see which you think would be best suited to you.

London transport

The first thing you need to know? London public transport is FANTASTIC compared to public transport systems in other countries and cities. You can travel by London Underground (also known as ‘The Tube’), bus, tram, DLR and national rail. There’s also bikes and scooters for hire, as well as walking on foot.

You are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to your transport options. Your transport links might have an impact on where you decide to live in the city. The reason for that, is that it’s very sought after to live within a 10 minute walk of a Tube station. There are tube stations all over London, but it really does make it so much more convenient if you can find accommodation close to a station. The best way to plan your journey in London? Use the Citymapper app.

Be sure to sign up to the Student Oyster Card. With this card you’ll be able to get 30% off adult fares on the London transport network, including the London Underground. Head to the Transport For London (TFL) website to sign up and find out more.

And if you’re planning to travel around the UK by rail? Get a Railcard to get 1/3 off your train travel.

Cost of living in London

It’s true that the cost of living in London is high. It’s hard to escape that. However, there are several things that you can do to keep your own cost of living low.

London School of Economics (LSE) estimate that the average student needs £1,300-£1,400 per month for their expenses in London (including accommodation). Your accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense, and so by choosing a lower-cost student accommodation, this could be your biggest area of saving.

You can also use some of the budgeting, shopping, grocery and travel tips within this guide to make sure that you don’t live outside your means. There are so many free things to do in London with friends, that you really don’t have to pay a fortune to enjoy the city.

Student budgeting in London

To save money in London as a student, setting a budget is a great idea in order not to overspending. Getting into the habit of budgeting early on will mean that it will become second nature, and you’ll be able to spend more on the things you want to spend on, and less on the things you don’t. A budget essentially means that you can cut back in some areas in order to gain more in other areas.

If you like the idea of creating an epic student budget, you can check out the Thrifty Londoner Ultimate Money Matrix Dashboard which is an all singing, all dancing budgeting and money management spreadsheet. You can also use this as a graduate, and track everything from savings, to investments, to debt repayments.

👀 check out the budgeting tool here:

Student discount card

A student card is the best way to get discounts on pretty much everything in London. Discounts will vary between retailers, but you can often expect at least 10% off at most participating retailers. And if you don’t see a sign advertising a student discount? Always ask!

TOTUM is the leading student discount card across the UK that offers discounts at hundreds of retailers. Check if your university also has their own student card, but you’ll likely need TOTUM for most student discount offers.

Shopping in London

London is without a doubt, a great place to shop. But as a student, you may not have lots of spare cash to splash. So when you do shop, you’ll need to make the most of some money saving tips and tricks. London is home to some brilliant charity shops, outlet stores, sample sales and even vintage kilo sales. All of the above are fantastic ways to score some bargains as a student.

And if you’d like to save a little on the everyday? You can use websites such as TopCashback which allow you to get cashback on any of your purchases online. Pretty cool, right? It works by the rule that when you make a purchase with a retailer through TopCashback, that retailer pays TopCashback a commission, and they pass some of that commission onto you!

Another option for automatic cashback is with an app called Cheddar. When you connect your bank card to Cheddar, the cashback will automatically track. You’ll even receive a free welcome bonus with code: THRIFTY. Every little helps! Some student bank accounts will also offer cashback at certain retailers, so do check that out when deciding on your student bank account.

Grocery shopping in London

In London it’s super easy to lean on convenience stores such as Tesco Express or Sainsbury’s Local. Or perhaps a sneaky Deliveroo or UberEats (use promo code eats-laurad2354ue to get £3 off your first order!). The real answer to saving money on food in London as a student is to do a “big shop” where you get food delivered. It’s much more cost effective, and you can even share the delivery cost with your housemates to make it super affordable. Check out Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury’s who all do great introductory offers on your first shop. You can also use TopCashback to make even more of a saving when you do your first online shop with these retailers.

And if you’re fortunate enough to live close to a Lidl or Aldi? Definitely shop at the cheaper supermarkets if you can! There can be a significant difference to the cost of your basket by using lower cost supermarkets. These supermarkets are unfortunately not found all over London, but if you are lucky enough to live nearby to one of them, definitely make use of them!

Other fun options for groceries? You could use HelloFresh which is a meal delivery kit option. The idea is that HelloFresh will provide you with all the ingredients you need (including items like soy sauce and condiments!) to make fresh, healthy meals. It’s an expensive long term solution for a student, but when you sign up for HelloFresh, you’ll get your first box for 60% off! This makes it a very affordable way to start cooking for yourself- especially as all the recipe cards are totally foolproof and easy to follow.

🥑 Check out HelloFresh here and get 60% off your first box!

Healthcare in London

As an international student, you probably won’t be able to have access to the NHS while you are living in the UK, the NHS is the National Health Service that provides free healthcare to the nation. If you’re a European student, you will need an EHIC. To find out whether you need to pay the healthcare surcharge as a student from a country within Europe, check the gov.uk website.

If you’re moving to London from further afield, you will have to pay the healthcare surcharge at the time of your visa application, to make sure that you are covered in the event of illness or injury when you’re living in the UK. The amount you will pay is based on how long you will be living in the UK. More information about the surcharge can be found in on gov.uk, the government website.

Working in London as an international student

If you are moving to London as an international student with a student visa, and you are studying a full time, degree level course at university, you are permitted to work part-time. You can work up to 20 hours a week during term time.

There are some restrictions on the type of work that you are unable to undertake. This includes work as a freelancer or self-employed person, an entertainer, a sportsperson or coach, or to initiate a commercial activity.

Lots of part-time jobs can work really well alongside full time studies. Some desirable jobs include working for the university, student union, or on a campus environment. Finding a job in London can be quite easy since there are so many options available!

Making friends in London as an international student

Moving to university in London is definitely the place to find likeminded people, you will definitely make friends at university. Whether you find friends at uni through where you live, on your course, or at social groups. When you first move into your student accommodation, make sure that you spend time getting to know your new housemates and find some common ground.

And if it’s taking a little longer than expected to make some new friends in London as a student? Check out our guide to meeting people and making friends in London.

FAQ

How to survive as an international student in London?

Surviving London as an international student is not as hard as you may imagine. London is a beautiful, vibrant place with lots of diversity, culture and history. There is a space in London for absolutely everyone, and with the right preparation, you will THRIVE in London as an international student.

Although the world of the The Tube, the neighbourhoods, the hustle and bustle, might feel overwhelming at the first, it will most certainly become familiar in a matter of weeks. London will soon begin to feel like your second home, and remember, your fellow students will also likely be living in London, away from home, for the very first time.

How much does an international student need to live in London?

London School of Economics (LSE) estimate that students in London will need to spend, on average, approximately £1,300-£1,400 per month on expenses (including accommodation). That said, a student in London could certainly spend more or less than this depending on their levels of expenses. The biggest thing that will influence the cost of moving to London as an international student is your accommodation costs. If you can keep those lower, it’ll be easier to keep a cap on monthly expenditure.

Is London a good place to live for international students?

London is an excellent place to live for international students. This is because London is a cultural hub- there are many things to do, see, and experience. London is a city that is full of opportunities, both at the prestigious universities themselves but also in terms of work experience and travel.

London is also a great place to explore the rest of the UK and also Europe, which is another bonus in itself.

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