13 tips for studying abroad in the UK

An international student at the University of Surrey International Study Centre

The first few weeks at university can be a bit overwhelming - especially when you are an international student!  If you’ve crossed the whole globe to come and study in the UK there will be a lot of things to consider, both before you arrive and once you are here.  

We’ve put together a quick round-up of the top tips for international students with advice to help you get prepared to study abroad in the UK and to make your transition to university life that much easier. 

1. Plan your budget

The next few years can be quite expensive, but they will be packed full of exciting adventures too. You’ll arrive in a new country, make new friends and want to explore straight away.  You may also be in charge of your personal finances for the very first time, so it’s important to start planning your budget before you arrive and try hard to stick to it.  Spending your budget for the whole term in the first few weeks will create unnecessary worry and stress - adding to the demands of your course and impacting on your social life if you run out of money! 

Create yourself a budget planner for the first term, shop around for the best student deals and keep on top of your spending. Think about what categories you find yourself spending on more often – such as groceries, transportation, entertainment and socialising – and set yourself either weekly or monthly budgets for each one. It might take a few attempts before you realise what a suitable budget is, but having a goal to stick to will help you throughout your time in the UK.

2. Set up a student bank account

Making your money go further is a skill you’ll learn as a student.  A top budgeting tip is to open a student bank account if you are staying in the UK for longer than a few months. When using overseas accounts, you may incur additional charges and fees which you can easily avoid.

Opening a bank account can be quite a time-consuming process, requiring lots of documents and identification, so do your research before you arrive as to which student account would suit you best. If possible, start (and potentially complete) the process before you leave home, as this will reduce the number of things on your ‘to do’ list when you arrive. 

3. Learn the language

Developing your language skills is key during your time overseas and you’ll have access to a range of programmes that will improve your English, alongside your enhancing your academic and study skills. Mastering the language will help you communicate better and aid your study.  By pushing yourself to develop your English language skills you’ll also be improving your employability once you graduate - so go for it!

4.  Research

It’s good to prepare yourself before you arrive with some knowledge that might help you in your first few weeks. 

You’ll be immersed in different cultures and customs - meeting fellow international students from places you’ve never heard of.  So before you arrive, try to familiarise yourself with some cultural information.  The UK is not known for its hot weather, it may be cold, wet and windy when you arrive, so make sure you pack extra layers and waterproofs.  Once summer does arrive, the temperature can still be very changeable - something you’ll soon get used to!

It is also important to familiarise yourself with the UK emergency numbers.  The easiest is the national emergency number of 999, but spend a bit of time memorising the local numbers too in case you need them.

5. Prepare your important documents

Depending on which country you are from, you may need a visa to study in the UK.  If you are a non-EU resident then you will need to apply for a visa. The type of visa required will depend on the length of your course.  It’s best to apply for these with plenty of time before you plan to travel, as they can take a few weeks to process. 

A great tip is to photocopy any important documents that you may have, for example, your passport and visa documents.  It’s easy to misplace these items when settling in to new accommodation so having this information recorded elsewhere will give you greater peace of mind. 

6. Health Insurance

All international students in the UK need to make sure they are covered by health insurance. As an international student, you’ll need to pay a health surcharge when applying for your student visa, which will entitle you to healthcare within the NHS during your time in the UK. 

7. Discover how to make international calls

Whether you’ll be wanting to call home every day, or perhaps just once a month, making sure your phone works properly in the UK will probably be one of your main priorities!  Most phones will work in the UK (although it’s worth checking if you intend to use it when you arrive), however using a SIM card from your home country may be a big mistake.  International calls and even local calls may be extremely expensive. If you want to keep your phone, then purchasing a new SIM card on arrival will keep your bills down.  Research both Pay As You Go tariffs and monthly contracts to find out what type of deal will suit you best. 

There are many low-cost providers for international calling and a quick Google search will show you the main contenders.  However, our international students are increasingly turning to free video calling services such as Facetime, WhatsApp and Skype to keep in touch with family and friends overseas (and in the UK!).

8. Dive in and try new things

You may never get such an exciting opportunity again, so make sure you get the most out of your time in the UK.  Meet new people, say yes to lots of new experiences, explore your surroundings and generally get involved. Push yourself outside your comfort zone by joining new societies, trying out different sports and making friends outside of your familiar group.  You never know where these new experiences will lead.

9. Getting around

Arriving in a new city can be quite daunting, especially when you are relying on using public transport to get around - and don’t speak the language well!  Your university will have lots of information about bus and train times for you to pick up. Every UK city will have a comprehensive local bus service and you can pick up a student bus card, giving you reduced cost travel around the city and surrounding areas.

Larger cities will also have train networks. At Surrey, you will be close to London and its famous Underground system, allowing you to explore the city quickly and easily. In London, the easiest way to travel around is with an Oyster card.

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the mode of transport you’ll need to get around, then just give it a go.  You’ll probably make a few mistakes and find yourself in the wrong place occasionally - but that’s just part of the fun. Having access to online travel information is invaluable, so it’s a good idea to download the apps for up-to-date local bus and train information.

10. Explore your university city

Once you’ve figured out the public transport, or got yourself a bike, then it’s time to explore your surroundings. Take time out to see local attractions with your new friends - a day exploring together is a great way to get to know each other. Make sure you allow time to stop for a coffee or tea and just sit and watch the world go by in your new city.  

As soon as you arrive at university, there will be plenty of staff and students ready to help you get settled in.  Make good use of campus tours, city walking tours and other activities in the first few weeks.  Check out our website to learn more about student life at Surrey before you arrive.

11. Travel

Whilst in the UK, you are in a great position to explore other cities and towns across the country, as well as other European countries. 

Travelling around the UK by coach and bus is simple and cost-effective, especially when you have access to the student railcard to reduce the cost of your fare. Don’t forget, there is more to the UK than London - trips to the wilds of Scotland or across into Wales will give you the chance to see different villages, towns, cities and countryside.

If you’d like to travel further afield, then Europe offers a wealth of different cultures and customs.  Low-cost airlines have opened up exciting destinations within Europe, from a weekend trip tasting the delights of Italian food, cultural evenings wandering around Prague to witnessing jaw-dropping scenery in Iceland. One top tip - it’s important to check your visa exclusions when looking to travel outside of your country of study. 

12. Pack the right stuff

Researching study abroad packing tips will help your journey get off to a good start. When starting to pack your suitcases you first need to consider where you’ll be studying. In the UK, you can easily purchase items that you need, so it’s not necessary to pack your whole wardrobe, but you will need a variety of clothes for all weather types! You’ll also get a better idea of what you do and don’t use once you arrive. Because of this, you’ll be able to take the things you haven’t found yourself using back home with you – as well as bringing those items you regretted leaving behind back to university.

Find out your luggage allowance, as this varies depending on the airline and even your ticket type. You can purchase additional luggage allowance, but this can be quite expensive and it may be more cost effective to purchase the items you need when you arrive.  Pack toiletries for the first two weeks of your stay, but the rest you can purchase as and when you need them. 

If you need certain medications make sure you have enough to cover you for the first few weeks, and register with a doctor on arrival to ensure you can access the correct medication during your stay. 

Alongside your electronic devices, don’t forget the chargers and additional items that you use with them, such as adaptors for use in the UK.

Finally, don’t forget your passport and any important documents!

13. Study hard!

Amidst all the fun and adventures try not to forget to study hard at your course.  With so many new experiences to be had in the first few weeks, it can be easy to let your university work slip. The first few weeks are key to getting a good understanding of your course, building your foundation knowledge and becoming a key part of your degree cohort. Attend additional classes, join new groups and societies, and go listen to visiting speakers whenever possible - this will all help you settle in to the routine of studying in the UK.

So hopefully we’ve given you some valuable advice on how to prepare for studying abroad… and perhaps we’ll see you soon at the University of Surrey International Study Centre.