Living in the UK

When arriving in a foreign country for the first time it can seem like a very strange place. Every country has its own unique food, social life, the way people dress, etiquette and how people speak and behave, sport, transport and holidays, and the UK is no exception.

There are many interesting and new experiences waiting for you in the UK and we hope you’ll enjoy them all.  Below are some helpful tips on some practical matters to consider when getting ready to travel.

There are also many helpful websites that will get you prepared. Try a few from this page.

Guardian Services

It is compulsory for all international students resident in KSS accommodation to have a UK based guardian. It is also an MPW college requirement, this is the same for most UK schools.

Food

In the past British food was sadly regarded as bland, unhealthy and badly cooked. Happily, these days are now past and you can now find food to make even the pickiest of eaters happy. 

Traditionally, British food is based on meats and seasonal and root vegetables.  Be sure to try a roast dinner while you’re here!

Most cafes and restaurants also offer vegetarian options and there are options available from all over the world.  Some of the bigger cities and towns will have specialist supermarkets catering products from around the world and even the main supermarkets carry some international foods.

Weather

Britain is an island country and the surrounding seas give it a very varied weather system! While Britain has a reputation for wet weather, there are also some beautiful sunny periods and cold and snowy ones too. Like in most places, it is impossible to know what the weather will be like so be sure to come prepared for anything!

Average temperatures in September are approximately between 10◦C and 20◦C for London, 8◦C and 18◦C for Birmingham and 10◦C and 18◦C for Cambridge getting cooler as Britain moves through the autumn into winter.

To be safe, pack a jacket or coat and some warm clothes as you might feel the cold more if you’re used to warmer temperatures in your home country.  You will be able to buy clothes appropriate for the weather when you get here if you don’t want to bring too much at first but be sure to check the weather reports before you pack to ensure you have appropriate clothing for the first couple of weeks at least.

Keeping in touch

Keeping in touch with friends and family at home is a very important part of studying abroad. You want to be able to share your new experiences and hear about what is happening at home too. It is also very important to have contact with loved ones on those rare days you might be feeling down. 

Make sure you pack all of the addresses and contact numbers and emails for everyone you want to keep in touch with and keep them safe.

In the UK, you can use the Royal Mail postal service to send packages and letters as well as several private courier companies such as DHL or FedEX. You will have WiFi access at college and in the accommodation provided through KSS if you’ve booked that. There are also many internet cafes and other public spaces that offer WiFi if you need to connect outside of college.

It might be an idea to get a local SIM card for your phone when you arrive or purchase a UK phone. This will make communicating in the UK easier and cheaper. To call home, you can purchase phonecards online or from kiosks and shops which are excellent value for money.

Health

The UK benefits from the National Health Service (NHS) which provides free health care to all British residents.  This also extends to international students staying for more than six months which means that you will be able to visit a doctor and attend a hospital if you need to without paying for it when you go.

The government has recently brought in an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for people coming to the UK on a visa. This charge is based on how long you will stay and helps cover any costs that the NHS may incur by treating you if you are unwell. You will need to pay this charge when you apply for a visa and it is not optional.

Faith

Being in the UK does not mean you will have to give up your religion or faith. There are many people with many different beliefs living and practicing here. There is sure to be a place for you to practice near your accommodation and please check with our hall of residence staff should you require further information.   

Britain is a tolerant society and it is illegal to discriminate against anyone due to their faith or religion. Please remember to behave accordingly to others of different faiths when you meet them.

Electricity

The power supply in Britain is 230/240 volts. Sockets accept only three-(square)-pin plugs, so an adapter is needed for international appliances. A transformer is also needed for appliances operating on 110-120 volts.

Money and Bank accounts

The currency in the UK is The Great British Pound GBP (£).  It is not a good idea to travel with large amounts of cash so you should try to have enough for the first few days and some cards you can use while here.

When you arrive it may be a good idea to set up a bank account. The main banks are HSBC, Barclays Bank, Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Barclays Bank and HSBC both do special international student packages.

Council Tax

Council Tax is determined by local authorities and is based on the value of the property you are living in.  People over 18 who are not exempt will have to make this payment. Students in full time education are generally exempt so be sure to ask your DoS or another member of staff at MPW if you need advice and they will point you in the right direction.

Insurance

It is a good idea to have travel insurance covering your journey to the UK and if you are travelling for less than six months, you should also have health insurance.  Make sure you keep key information and contact numbers for your insurance with you when you travel.

Staying safe

Safety is important anywhere in the world and while Britain is a very safe place to be, it is a good idea to keep some advice in mind:

  • Don’t wander around alone at night, especially in areas with little light.
  • Don’t travel with too many pieces of expensive technology and don’t flaunt them when you’re out and about in public.
  • It is best not to carry large amounts of cash with you and you can speak to MPW about helping you set up a bank account or a float account if a regular bank account isn’t possible.
  • Try to make sure someone responsible knows where you’re going if you’re going to go out alone.
  • Always keep emergency numbers to hand in case you need them.

Laws

There may be some differences between the law in your country and the law in the UK. For example, in the UK:

  • You must not use or carry any illegal drugs, including cannabis, ecstasy, LSD or amphetamines.
  • It is illegal to carry self-defence CS gas sprays, guns or stun guns. There are also very strict laws and penalties around carrying knives.
  • You must be aged 18 or over to buy tobacco and alcohol.
  • You should never buy property that you think might be stolen, no matter how tempting it seems.
  • It is illegal to drive a car without the correct driving licence and without car insurance. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious offence.
  • You can find out about the UK law at the www.gov.uk website.