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5 things you need to do - if you are an international student thinking about coming to the UK

Published on 29th July 2019 - Last update on 15th March 2020

If you're an international student from the EU - or even somewhere further afield - coming to the UK to study is a popular choice. UK universities are world-renowned, as well as the chance to gain the education which will be a great foundation for your intended career, you will have the chance to build your English language skills. In many fields, fluent English can be as valuable in the job market as your degree.

You can expect a warm welcome, but moving away from home to another country is a big step. Here is our list of the things you need to know if you are an international student thinking about coming to the UK.

1. Find your university course

The UK is very diverse and welcomes people from all around the world. And the student community is especially diverse. This means you'll find plenty of fellow international students at all universities.

You can see which colleges and universities are favourites with overseas students from various countries, and use this tool to find the courses that are the most popular.

Most universities will have societies to help you meet like-minded people and those from similar backgrounds.

2. Get your costs covered

You need to make sure you have the finances to fund your degree. You'll need to pay higher tuition fees than UK students – anything from £10,000 to £35,000 a year. On top of this, you will need to pay for accommodation, food, books and entertainment.

EU students are currently eligible for Student Finance in the UK, meaning the cost of your tuition fees can be covered by a loan that you'll need to pay back in the future. This may change as Britain agrees on the terms of leaving the EU. However, students from outside the EU aren't eligible for the loan, and you'll have to fund your degree yourself.

You'll have to provide evidence that you can cover this cost, as well as your living expenses to get a student visa if you need one.

If you are from an EU country you will need European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which will entitle you to free or reduced healthcare from the National Health Service while you're here in the UK.

International students from outside the EU will need to prove that they have health insurance to cover them for any healthcare they need while in the UK.

3. Organise your student visa

Depending on which country you're from, as an overseas student coming to the UK for a course of study you might need to apply for a student visa.

If you're a national of a country in the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA), then you won't need to apply for a visa to study in the UK.

The same rules will apply if you are Swiss. You'll be able to travel to the UK and study using just your normal passport.

If you're coming from a country outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland, you will have to apply for a visa before you can study in the UK. If you'll be studying in the UK for under six months, you can opt for a short-term student visa. This will mean that you can’t do any paid work in the UK, even as part of your course.  

If your course is for any longer than six months - as all undergraduate courses are - you'll need a Tier 4 (general) student visa. This costs £348 if you're applying from outside the UK, and you'll need to be in your home country to apply.

To get it you will need:

  • Your CAS number - This is the Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies code, the 14-digit reference number you'll receive from your university once you accept your offer
  • Proof of funding - You'll need to prove that you have enough money to pay for your first year of tuition fees, plus at least £1,015 per month to cover your living expenses (£1,265 if you are studying in London)
  • English language skills - You'll have to meet the minimum level of English language proficiency. This may mean taking a Secure English Language Test (SELT). You can only apply for your visa within three months before you are due to start your course, but apply as soon as possible after that - it can take weeks to hear back.

4. Sort your student accommodation

You'll need to get your accommodation sorted before you arrive in the UK. You need to arrange somewhere to stay, but the university itself should be able to help.

Most students either live in university accommodation, which is usually known as 'halls of residence' or 'halls', for the first year. Some universities have halls specifically for international students which might make it easier for you to make friends. These can be catered, with meals provided in a canteen, or self-catered. Self-catered means you’ll have access to a shared kitchen where you can cook your own meals. This can work out cheaper, but you will need to have some idea of how to cook your own meals.

You will most likely have a room to yourself. Shared rooms are unusual in British Universities.

Halls can be fun, but if you think you would find the atmosphere distracting, you can rent a room or flat from a private landlord. The university accommodation office will have lists of suitable places.

5. Prepare for British life

The UK is not crime-free, but it is a generally safe society. All towns have good and bad areas. You will need to listen to any briefings you receive during freshers week – the reception week for new students – to see if there are any places best avoided.

You’ll need a UK  bank account too. This makes it easier to pay bills, keep money safe and, above all, not pay the foreign currency charges you will be charged if you use a non-UK bank account to pay for things in Britain.

Setting up a bank account can be lengthy, as banks will need lots of information to establish your identity, including:

  • Your passport
  • A valid visa
  • Proof of address in the UK
  • Proof of address in your home country
  • Proof of student status
  • Proof of income or wealth – This may mean a credit check and interview

You'll also probably have to attend the bank in person to get everything set up.

Finally, if you are from somewhere that enjoys a warm climate, you may need to prepare for British weather. It can be cold and wet, so make sure you have plenty of warm clothes and a waterproof coat for the winter – and although summer can sometimes be hot – don’t expect it to happen too often!

If you're a higher education provider, find out what options there are for funding for higher education institutions.

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Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell

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