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Students Guide to Settling in the UK

You have worked hard through High School and then either completed a Bachelor’s and or a Master’s degree in your home country or have decided to go abroad to pursue further studies. Either way, you probably already know someone who has gone to the UK for their education, and they must have told you so many stories about how amazing the experience was and now it’s your turn! Welcome to the next important question in your life, how to settle in the UK?

It’s a big thing to move to another country, another culture, another lifestyle. Different people, different language, different food. Everything will feel really strange at first. In fact, it may actually even feel like a great adventure, something to tick off your “bucket list,” that travelling you always wanted to do. If you are lucky then you will already have friends or family settled in the UK who you can meet up with or stay with. They will be able to help you to fit in and they will also be able to provide a little bit of home comfort if you are feeling homesick. Not everyone has this support network to fall back on and for some people the reality is that you are really on your own: 

A stranger in this foreign land” (From a poem by Emily Dickinson).

If you have enrolled in a College or University in the UK then it is very likely that they will have a welcome committee and a range of activities to introduce you to life in the UK. This is a great opportunity to meet people from all cultures around the World who are going through the same processes and experiencing the same feelings as yourself. It’s also the time to ask lots of questions about things like; How do I use public transport, where can I find restaurants or shops that sell food I am used to from home, what activities can I do in my spare time that will improve my English, where is the cheapest place to find accommodation and where can I find a job and how many hours am I allowed to work?

Many students from abroad have families who took out huge loans to enable them to pay the cost of coming to the UK and you are probably feeling the weight of responsibility on your shoulders to help pay off those debts and to get a good qualification so you can find a well-paid job either back home or in the UK / Europe. Under the terms of most Student visas, you are allowed to work a specific number of hours each week to enable you to help pay for your cost of living. It’s worth understanding that the UK is going to feel like an incredibly expensive place to live but the flip side of that is that the money you earn will be much more than you could earn at home. The UK has legal requirements for companies to all pay a standardised minimum wage. At the time of writing, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for workers aged between 18 and 20 is £6.45 per hour. For those between 21 and 24, the NMW is £8.20 per hour and if you’re over 25, it’s £8.72. These rates change every April. Employers also have to pay for things like overtime and bank holidays etc.

You will be taxed if you earn above a certain amount, but you may also be entitled to things like pension contributions and holiday either paid or taken as days off. If you are lucky and you have a unique skill set, then you may be able to get much better rates of pay and although you will be still limited by the number of hours you are allowed to work you could still make a reasonable income. So, remember you don’t have to flip burgers or wash dishes or make coffee for minimum wage, you can look for better paid positions.

If you’re an international student enrolled on a full-time undergraduate or postgraduate degree, these are the hours you’re allowed to work:

  • part-time during term for up to 20 hours per week 
  • part-time during term for up to 10 hours a week if you’re studying a qualification below degree level
  • full-time during any holidays if you’re an undergrad. If you’re a postgrad, the summer is classed as full-time, so you won’t be able to work full-time.

If you’re not sure, you can check your visa vignette or biometric residence permit (BRP) for your personal work eligibility.

Earning money in the UK is subject to tax laws. You have to pay: 1. Income Tax if you earn more than £1,042 a month on average – this is your Personal Allowance and 2. National Insurance if you earn more than £190 a week Your employer will usually deduct Income Tax and National Insurance from your wages through Pay As You Earn (PAYE). After you have paid any living costs each month and saved a little money for emergencies and or socialising, if you have some money left you will probably want to send it home to your parents to help them and pay towards any loans etc. You can feel a great pride in that achievement of finally as an adult being able to earn and send money to your families back home.

The easiest way to send money home is to use a remittance service like IME London, who guarantee the best service and lowest rates on the market. Its as easy as signing up online at:

From some countries you can also receive money as a student in the UK direct to your IME London account, sent from parents and families back home to help support your living costs.

Accommodation can really vary in the UK. Some educational facilities will have Student Halls of accommodation, and these can be self-catering (you cook your meals), Half Board (Breakfast and Dinner in the cafeteria) or Full Board (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in the Cafeteria).  Obviously, the cheapest option is self-catering, and you will be surprised at how cheaply you can do your weekly shopping if you know where to look and you don’t buy too many luxury extras!

Big supermarket chains like; Tesco’s, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl all have their own generic branded products which sell for very low rates (basically just covering the cost of production). This is done on purpose to attract you into the shop because they know that when you buy so many cheap items you are sure to then feel like you have spare money to buy some more expensive luxury items too!

A reasonably cheap way to live is to share cooking with a group of friends. Take it in turns to cook for the whole group so on a weekday for a group of five you only need to cook on one night. If you are from several different nationalities then this is a great opportunity to experience different cuisines every night, for example: Dhal Baht on a Monday, Pad Thai on a Tuesday, Korean Kimchi on a Wednesday, Pasta on a Thursday and Sushi on a Friday! Most British people eat a simple breakfast like Toast, Cereal with milk, Tea or coffee and they make a packed lunch to take to school, college or the office with them. This normally consists of a bread sandwich or a wrap, A bottle of water or juice or squash, a piece of fruit and a packet of potato crisps. That is a reasonably healthy (depending on what filling you put in your sandwich) and a very cheap option because you are buying these everyday items in bulk and not one at a time from a café or service station.

Public Transport in the UK is generally very impressive. All areas from the smallest villages to the biggest cities will have daily fleets of buses to help you move around. Most towns and Cities now have Railway lines and stations and more and more as we move towards an environmentally conscious society you will find the provision for cycle lanes to protect you from traffic. Some cities have something called a Tram which is a cross between a bus and a train and runs on tracks and are powered by electricity, but you can travel all-round the bigger towns and cities on them as they are incorporated into the road systems. Every road you see will also have a pavement on either side which is for pedestrians to walk safely alongside them. Built up areas also have a traffic speed limit of 30 mph (miles per hour) and areas around schools of 20 mph. This means that traffic moves much slower and is much safer than you will probably be used to from home.

You may find that there are many more rules to follow in the UK than you are probably used to but, these are designed to protect you and to help you. Pay attention to what people tell you, especially if they are local and don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help. Students who have been in the educational facility longer than you and even better students and staff who are locals will be able to give you so much useful information and so many ideas on how to live comfortably in the UK.

You will also be surprised by how many free activities are available in your spare time. Many parks in the UK have public access and free gym equipment or running trails around them. You can play ball games and frisbee on the grass. You can go for long walks. Most museums are free, and you will find art galleries everywhere that have no charge for entry. Often there are free music concerts in public spaces and churches, especially during lunch hours in places like Oxford where Choirs gather to practice.

You will also find plenty of provision for religious activities. Most reasonable sized towns and all cities have a Mosque, A Hindu / Buddhist Temple and of course lots of Christian Churches. If you visit them regularly you will find there is a good community of people from your home nationality who you can meet with, eat with, and do activities with.

A really fun way to share your culture with other people and to experience theirs is to share each other’s special festivals. You could ask a group of friends to a Nepalese restaurant in town. Or you could attend a cultural program at university and dress in your Mongolian National Dress and sing a traditional song or perform a cultural dance.

However, and whenever you find yourself in the UK you can be sure that along the route of settling in this country your best partner for remittance, with tried and trusted services and the best rates on the market, IME London will be with you every step of the way. Good luck and we look forward to welcoming you to the UK!

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