International Students in London: Preparing For and Getting Through Your First Year
Moving to another country is daunting. Moving to another country as an international student in London for higher education is even scarier – you not only have to deal with all the stress of adjusting to a new environment and finding your feet, but you also have to worry about exams, essays and assignments. Even if you are moving to a completely different part of the country, it can certainly feel like you’ve just moved countries, especially in London, as it’s a melting pot of different cultures.
Have no fear! We’ve created a guide that can help with all aspects of living in London as an international student, from the right type of accommodation, to which university is the most international, to even the types of jobs available for international students (but watch out for your visa limitations).
Hopefully, you’ll feel excited and ready for anything by the end of this article, as London can be amazing if done right.
Why Study in London?
There are countless reasons why London is a fantastic choice for higher education. As one of the oldest capitals in the world, the city is steeped in history, architecture and is home to some of the best academics in the world. Plus, studying in the UK is far less expensive (and shorter) than studying in the US. Here are just a few reasons why London is the city to start your university career in:
1. An International and Unique City
If you’re tired of your home town and want to experience somewhere completely different, then London is for you. It’s unlike any other capital city in the world – it’s more traditional and has a wide variety of architecture compared to some of the more modern cities in Asia, but with fewer high-rises than some of the cities in the US. Is it a European-like city? Not particularly – it has all the same cuisines but is far bigger and busier than any other European capital. Yes, London is unique in itself, as will your experience here. You’ll learn how to handle a city as complex as this one, which is a life-skill in itself!
2. Land of Opportunity
As London is so international and home to millions of people, there are lots of opportunities here for after your degree. If you’re lucky enough to be from Europe, you may not even need a visa to stay and look for a job. You have the traditional routes of Finance and Law, both of which London is the global epicentre for.
If you aren’t interested in the more traditional careers, there are loads of start-ups and even companies looking to hire that are from other types of industries. You can even create your own business if you like! London is intense as there are so many people who work and live here and try to establish a settled life, but I promise you-you will be able to find your niche amongst the chaos.
3. Academic Excellence
The London universities are some of the best in the world, fact. Consistently in the top 10 globally are the London School of Economics, University College London, King’s College London and Queen Mary London University. You will be guaranteed access to some of the brightest minds of our generation, and learn from some of the best in the industry. As London is a more attractive place to live in for many academics, rather than a more rural alternative, the universities are in high demand for lecturers and tutors. This means they can hire only the best, not the ones just willing to relocate. If you choose any of the universities in London, you’ll either get the academic excellence you’re craving for or go for the universities that are best in their field – think City University for journalism, Central St Martin’s for arts and more. There are no wrong answers.
4. Yes, it CAN be Affordable
You’ve probably heard that London is expensive. And yes, some parts of it are. Some of the most unavoidable price hikes will be your rent, but even then – you just have to be smart about it. As with any big city, scams exist and eagerness can be taken advantage of. It’s best to shop around for the best rental prices and the best value, and then you’ll be sure to hit a bargain somewhere along the way. Same goes for general lifestyle. You can shop around for the best-priced groceries and clothes, and take advantage of seasonal sales. If you’re really on a bargain, be sure to do the most of your student partying at a Wetherspoon’s Pub – this chain of pubs has some great drinks at a reasonable price. Any city will be expensive to some degree – but in London, as it’s so big and diverse, you will be able to find affordable options.
5. The Entertainment
If extracurricular activities are important to you alongside your studies, London has plenty on offer. You can go through the student union at your university, but you can also find events yourself. Websites such as Eventbrite always have something going on, whatever your interests. More of a clubber? You have Soho to pick from, or one of the more laid-back pubs along literally every street corner. Into sports? Some of the best football teams are from London and you can get a ticket to go see them when they play. Just like a stroll in the park? Try Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath or even along the canal. One of my friends attends K-Pop dance classes twice a week – the options are endless. In London, you can truly be who you want to be, no matter how weird you are.
Number of International Students per London University
Saying that London Universities are international would be an understatement. They are probably THE most international in the whole of the UK, due to the attractiveness of living in London. Here are some of the numbers of international students from the UKCISA website:
Institution: University College London
Postgraduate Research Students: 2,295
Postgraduate Taught Students: 5,510
Undergraduate Students: 7,925
Total Number of International Students: 15,735
Institution: Kings College London
Postgraduate Research Students: 945
Postgraduate Taught Students: 3,775
Undergraduate Students: 5,275
Total Number of International Students: 9,990
Institution: Imperial College London
Postgraduate Research Students: 2,100
Postgraduate Taught Students: 2,545
Undergraduate Students: 4,250
Total Number of International Students: 8,900
Institution: University of the Arts, London
Postgraduate Research Students: 55
Postgraduate Taught Students:1,995
Undergraduate Students: 6,505
Total Number of International Students: 8,550
Institution: City, University of London
Postgraduate Research Students: 225
Postgraduate Taught Students: 4,250
Undergraduate Students: 3,030
Total Number of International Students: 7,560
Institution: London School of Economics and Political Science
Postgraduate Research Students: 355
Postgraduate Taught Students: 4,750
Undergraduate Students: 2,435
Total Number of International Students: 7,545
Those are thousands of international students, just like you, all in the same boat. It also gives an idea as to which university is the most prepared for its intake of international students – the more it has, the more likely there will be welcome events and other preparations for you when you arrive.
Sorting out your Visa, Documents and Tuition Fees
A word on tuition fees. For international students who are not from the EU, it will often be significantly more than domestic student fees. This varies per course, and some are virtually the same, but it should be a factor in your decision. Because of the increased expense, deciding to study at a university in London is not a decision to be taken likely. Of course, you can counter-act this expense through loans, part-time jobs and looking for the best bargains for living expenses. There will not be a breakdown and comparison of international vs domestic fees here as it varies so much per course, just be sure to check for your course at your university before applying. Failure to do so could risk your visa application to be rejected.
Everyone knows that the visa application process for the UK is a pain. There are very strict deadlines and quality of documents to maintain, or your visa application could potentially be rejected and put your course start date in jeopardy. We’ve pulled together a simple guide to the steps needed to obtain your student visa, but be sure to consolidate with the UK Government website as well.
- Confirmation of your course – when you accept a place at a university with Highly Trusted Status (HTS) on the UKVI Tier 4 Sponsor list, you will be given a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) form approved by UK Visa and Immigration. You need this as part of your visa application – if you haven’t received it, get in touch with your university.
- Funding – you must provide evidence of funding to pay for both your course tuition fee and your monthly living costs. This includes maintaining a certain level of money in a bank account under your name for several months, but this condition could change over time. Please check the UK Government website for the latest policy on how this will be checked. Do note that if you provide bank statements from a foreign bank, these have to be stamped and verified by that bank, as well as translated to English.
- Visa Application – this is done via an online application form on the UK Visa & Immigration website. You will also need to have your fingerprints and photograph (‘biometric information) taken at a visa application centre as part of your application. Get in touch with your university for this – some universities offer a special service for students to help them with this process and check all documents to submit.
- Immigration Health Service Charge – if you are coming from outside of Europe and living in the UK for longer than six months, you will be required to pay a ‘health surcharge’ to gain access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The fee is £150 per year or £75 for six months or less and is payable when you complete your online visa application. This needs to be paid upfront as you submit your application.
Any outstanding questions should be directed to your university. Remember, they admit thousands of international students per year and are well-versed in the visa application process. They’re there to help!
Accommodation for International Students in London
This has been addressed in detail in another article, so do check that out for the full review of where to live in London as a student. As London universities are all located in vastly different areas, where you live may be influenced by your campus location as well as personal tastes. Many international students opt to live in students halls, either provided by the university or by external provide accommodation. Some of the main operators in London include:
Urbanest have properties all over London and offer high-quality, high-spec accommodation. Their flagship offering is probably the one by Westminster Bridge, as it boats direct views over Big Ben and Westminster – you can’t get more London than that! They offer a range of rooms to accommodate your price range, from twin bedrooms to share with a friend to luxury penthouses on the top floor which offers 360 views of the city. As their accommodation is of high quality, the prices are slightly higher than most other operators, but you’ll have a comfortable stay. If you’re worried about socialising with other students, fear not – there are common spaces to relax in and even a cinema room.
Similar to Urbanest, Unite Students has a wide variety of properties available around London, depending on where your university is located. Their price range is slightly more affordable than Urbanest, and they are often hired by London universities exclusively for their students at a discount rate. You can choose from a single room with a shared bathroom to a studio all to yourself. As with Urbanest, there are various common rooms available for students and each ‘flat’ of students sharing a kitchen will have some space for hanging out as well.
A fairly new player on the market, Sanctuary Students offers relatively affordable student accommodation while still having properties located very centrally. The idea is you rent an en-suite room to yourself, but share the kitchen space with your new flatmates – usually around five other students. This offering is impressive as all the rooms have their own bathroom, which is a luxury in central London living! SOAS is known to hire some of the properties exclusively for their students, at a discount rate too!
iQ Student Accommodation has some fantastically central properties, and their prices for a standard room is quite competitive. What’s more, their studio prices beat the other providers, so if you’re looking for privacy then this is the one for you. As they are so popular, it can be hard to book them early enough in the year, but they are a good choice if you prefer to live as close to the action as possible. For those that prefer to live a little further out, the price lowers and you’re able to make the most of a more residential side to London. You can always bike in if needed!
Earning Money as an International Student in London
A frequently asked question among international students is being able to take part-time work while on a student visa. The short answer is yes, you can work, but only for a limited amount of time per week. The current limit for international students is 20 hours a week during term-time, but you can work full-time during holidays to help support your studies. However, this only applies if you are studying a course for longer than six months, and it has to be degree-level.
If you are a student, you’re likely to be also thinking about your next steps. Many students opt for work experience during their degree in the form of internships, to widen their network and beef up their CVs. Luckily, most internships take place outside of term-time, such as during the summer, meaning you are allowed to work full-time for any internships that fall outside of term-time. Unfortunately, should you want to gain experience during term-time, you’ll fall under the limitation of 2o hours a week. Though, you’re likely to be way too busy with your course to contemplate full-time work at the same time!
2. Part-Time Employment Options
If you think you’d like to work part-time alongside your studies to help fund your university course, then there are plenty of options available in London! The number one and most well-paid part-time job for international students in London is to be a brand ambassador on campus. This involves spreading advertising content for your company and speaking to other students about it. It’s also the least disruptive to your studies as it’s flexible work hours and duties. While you may have lectures in the mornings, you can always spend your afternoon representing your company at student fairs – it’s the perfect post for an extrovert who doesn’t mind meeting and influencing others! Those skills are transferable to any job once you graduate.
Other part-time jobs that are great for students can be found at your student union. Student bars and admin centres need people to help, so be sure to ask for any vacancies. It’s likely the hours will be kind as well, as they are used to hiring students. Plus, you’ll get the opportunity to meet other students at your university, whom you may not have met before. It’s a way to meet new friends and earn some money – what could be better? There are also many options, depending on your skillset, from office work to bar work to handing out flyers and organising events, you can pick whichever job sounds most interesting to you. Ask your department as well, chances are they’ll need help with external events and Open Days.
If you’re interested in taking on some external work (i.e, not provided by your university), you can look at the standard student jobs such as restaurant and bar work, hospitality work and even basic admin roles. You can find openings for local jobs on Monster, Gumtree and other job websites. These days, the internet is an incredible tool for finding work, so you can go online and find online jobs that fit around your schedule. These can be anything from being a virtual assistant, an English teacher, a tutor or even a freelance writer. It’s important to filter out the genuine opportunities from the others, but you can check Reddit for good reviews on different online companies. We have a whole article on freelancing work, so do check that out as well. Here is a summary of common online jobs that can suit students:
3. Teaching English Online
Many online providers require a Bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite, but you can find some that can accept you while you are completing yours. You might be required to complete the TEFL qualification to start earning decent money with this option, but you can find this course for £50 on Groupon, and it’s all done online in your own time. As a student, your lectures and tutorials will be scheduled sporadically, and you can make the most out of that schedule to teach during the day and on weekends. If you teach enough hours and build up your reputation, you can earn some decent money through this. Plus, flexible working means you can work from almost anywhere!
4. Being a Virtual Assistant
This type of online job is being someone’s administrative assistant but entirely done online. As mentioned above, with the flexibility of your student schedule, you can easily fit this part-time role around your studies and earn some good money out of it. Just be sure to be punctual, organised and the type of person someone can rely on for their work – if you aren’t this sort of person, do not pursue this job and expect to get anywhere!
5. Freelance Work
Do you have a skill or hobby that you love doing? Can you turn it into freelance work for others? If so, this is a great way to monetise what you’re already good at, all while refining a useful skill that you can always use in future to sustain yourself. If you have a practical skill such as photography and photoshop, web design, financial modelling or coding, you can put your services up on websites such as Fiverr, Gumtree and even Airbnb and pick up work on the way. A nerdy historian? Become a local expert! The options are endless.
Common Traps for International Students in London
As an international student in London, you should be mindful of the scams that exist and target students. These are mostly to do with finding housing and jobs, but can also be false promises of employment after graduation if you pay a fee. You should never have to pay money for a job, and when you would need to – you are overpaying and can find the same job for free if you do your research right!
As the common misconception with international students is that you have lots of spare cash, many scam artists in London will try to take advantage of this.
Remember: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be vigilant!
Summary: Surviving Your First Year as an International Student in London
Your first year in London as an international student will be mostly about getting everything organised for the rest of your time at university – getting your visa sorted, organising your schedule and finding the right accommodation. Hopefully, this guide has served as a helpful starting point for where to look and what to do to make sure you’re as stress-free as possible as you start your first year.
University is a great time, and you will never change as much as you do during your first year. London is also fantastic for international students, as there is so much available to all kinds of personalities and preferences. It might all feel overwhelming at first, but just remember that everyone feels the same way and soon you will understand the ways of London too.
Here’s a checklist to make sure you’ve thought about everything:
- Get your visa sorted by submitting the right documents and following the right process.
- Choose a type of accommodation that best fits your needs and isn’t too far from your university.
- Research the best places to shop, eat and have fun – without breaking the bank.
- Try exploring whether there’s a way to work part-time alongside your studies to make the experience easier, but remember the "20-hour visa rule”
- Remember to avoid scams, and always think about why you’re handing money over when you make a big transaction
If you keep all of these pointers in mind, your first year as an international student in London will be a blast!
Good luck, you’ll love it!
Article Written By: Alexandra Willems