Living expenses in the UK for international students

Students sunbathing on grass in Surrey

Coming to study in the UK is an exciting prospect, but it’s also important to make sure you have informed yourself about the cost of living in the UK for international students. A well-planned budget can make the difference between a stressful and stress-free experience of living and studying in a different country.

From accommodation to food, travel, and leisure activities, there are several aspects to consider when calculating living expenses in the UK for international students. The average cost of living in the UK varies depending on the city or region you choose to study in. But wherever you study, it's important to have a realistic picture of these expenses to ensure a comfortable and stress-free study experience.

In this blog post, we'll share all of the practical tips and insights you need to know about UK living expenses for international students. Our aim is to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of what to expect financially, so you can focus more on your academic pursuits and less on monetary concerns.

Tuition fees in the UK

Before you start to think about living expenses in the UK for international students, it’s important to understand the tuition fees you’ll need to pay.

In the UK, tuition fees can vary significantly based on the course and university you choose, so it’s important to research the fees for your specific course. Universities typically provide detailed fee information on their websites. Generally, courses in humanities and social sciences are less expensive than those in science, technology, engineering, or medicine, which often require more resources and equipment.

While tuition fees form a significant part of the cost of living in the UK for international students, they are an investment in your education and future career.

Accommodation costs for students

One of the biggest living expenses in the UK for international students is your accommodation costs. It’s important you consider the location and type of accommodation when estimating the average cost of living in the UK, as costs can vary greatly depending on these factors. Living in a city centre is generally more expensive compared to suburban areas.

The choice between on-campus and off-campus living can also significantly influence the cost of living in the UK for international students. On-campus accommodation is often convenient, offering a close-knit community feel and easy access to university facilities. Being closer to your university can also help you save on travel costs – and remember that you need to live within a 60-minute commute of the International Study Centre. Prices can vary, but they typically include utility bills, making budgeting more straightforward.

On the other hand, off-campus living, such as renting a flat or a shared house, offers more independence. Sharing a flat or house with roommates can also be a cost-effective option, as you are splitting the rent and utility bills.

On average, students can expect to spend approximately £7,373 per annum on accommodation costs, or £9,488 if you are based in London (National Union for Students (NUS) 2021 Accommodation Costs Survey).

Food and grocery expenses

For international students, managing food and grocery expenses can form a significant part of living expenses in the UK. On average, you can expect to spend between £150 and £250 per month on groceries. This estimate can vary based on individual eating habits – and if you often eat out or order takeaways, your food bills can increase quickly.

The UK offers a wide range of dining options, from local British fare to diverse international cuisine. An average meal at an affordable restaurant is around £12-20. Striking a balance between cooking at home and enjoying the UK’s food scene can help manage living expenses for international students in the UK effectively.

Transportation costs

Being mindful of transportation costs is another key aspect of managing UK living expenses for international students.

The UK public transport system includes trains, buses, and the London Underground. Most of these services offer student discounts, which are definitely worth taking advantage of. For instance, full-time students can get a 30% discount on train fares with a Young Persons Railcard, costing around £30. In London, students over 18 can benefit from a 30% discount on tube fares by purchasing the Oyster Student Card.

Bus fares are relatively cheap, with one-way tickets typically ranging from £1.50 to £2.50. Planning your travel to use weekly or monthly passes can also lead to savings.

To reduce transportation expenses even further, consider walking or cycling for shorter distances. Many UK cities offer bike-sharing schemes, which are not only cost-effective but a great way to stay active.

Healthcare and insurance

Navigating the healthcare system is an essential part of managing living expenses for international students in the UK. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) provides comprehensive healthcare services to all legal residents. International students staying in the UK for more than 6 months pay an NHS Health Surcharge as part of their visa application.

Being registered with the NHS means that students have access to quality medical treatment and support, such as GP visits, hospital treatments, and emergency care. Dental and optical treatments usually require additional payment.

Students may wish to opt for private healthcare insurance, which can be arranged through universities, colleges, or private insurers. 

Budgeting tips for international students

By adopting practical budgeting strategies, managing living expenses for international students in the UK becomes considerably less daunting. A little planning can go a long way towards ensuring a smooth and stress-free experience of studying abroad:

  • Use budgeting apps or a spreadsheet to track your expenses – understanding where your money goes each month can help make informed adjustments to your spending habits
  • Prioritise essentials like rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation
  • Plan your meals weekly, shop with a list, and cook at home more often than you eat out
  • Take advantage of student discounts wherever possible, from public transport to cultural activities
  • Set aside a small amount each month for unexpected expenses or emergencies

 Part-time work opportunities

Part-time work can be a practical solution for managing UK living expenses for international students. However, it's crucial to be aware of the rules and regulations governing student work hours. Typically, international students on a Tier 4 visa can work up to 20 hours per week during term time, or full-time during vacations.

Universities often offer a range of jobs on campus, such as working in the library, cafeterias, or administrative offices. Off-campus, students can explore roles in retail, hospitality, or tutoring, which are popular for their flexible hours.

Effective time management is key to ensuring you can meet your academic requirements while also gaining valuable work experience.

Study at the University of Surrey

If you’re concerned about living expenses in the UK for international students, the University of Surrey offers easy access to London while being based in a more affordable location just outside of the city. The University consistently performs well in major UK league tables. In 2023, it was ranked 13th in the Complete University Guide 2024, and it ranked 21st in both The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide and The Guardian University Guide.

Surrey was also shortlisted for the University of the Year in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023, and won the University of the Year for Graduate Employment in 2022.

Renowned for its high student satisfaction, The University of Surrey was also ranked 4th in the UK in the National Student Survey 2023.

The University of Surrey International Study Centre offers a range of programmes for international students. You’ll also want to take a look at the important information you’ll need on entry requirements, fees, and visa information.


Is the UK expensive for students?

The cost of living in the UK for international students can vary. While some cities are more expensive than others, careful budgeting and taking advantage of student discounts can make managing living expenses in the UK more feasible.

Is the UK good for international students?

Yes – the UK is renowned for its excellent academic opportunities and strong support for international students make it a popular destination for studying abroad. The quality of education and multicultural environment mean that studying in the UK offers opportunities for both academic and personal development.

Is it hard to survive in the UK for international students?

With careful financial planning, it’s manageable to handle living expenses for international students in the UK. Part-time work opportunities can also supplement income while you are studying. The UK also offers a vibrant and enriching environment for students from around the globe.