Living in London

© Chiara Bellamoli
© Chiara Bellamoli

Living in a new city will give you both cultural and life experience, and London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.

You may find life here is very fast-paced, which can feel a little overwhelming. Londoners are not in the habit of chatting to strangers but this experience is not to be taken personally…it is simply reflective of the fact that London is Europe’s most populous city! People are generally friendly and will assist you if you need help with directions.

Date format - British dates are written in Day/Month/Year format (26/09/2016) but can also be expressed in full-form: 26 September 2016 or September 26, 2016, for example.

Eating out - There is a wide range of cultures and their corresponding cuisines provide something for everyone in London – it’s not just fish and chips! Along with typical Western cuisine, you will find restaurants and markets catering to dietary needs such as kosher, halal, vegan and vegetarian.

Grocery shopping - On a student budget, it is a good idea to grocery shop and prepare your own meals. While there are numerous sandwich shops/cafes (and the University canteens - a.k.a. cafeterias) it is much healthier and cheaper to make your own food. Sometimes preparing food that is familiar to you also helps to combat homesickness. Grocery stores, or supermarkets, are scattered throughout the city. The main chains are Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons and Co-op. While Waitrose and M&S (Marks and Spencer) are wonderful choices, they tend to be on the pricier side and not friendly to the student budget.

Entertainment- Even though London is huge, as a student living in London there will be ample opportunities to meet new people. Your classes and group projects are a great way to meet new people, as well as living in student housing, where you will be surrounded by other students. It is a good idea to get involved in clubs and groups to expand your horizons and make connections. The University offers many avenues to get you socializing. Check out Time Out and The Londonist for events around town.

Pubs - Pubs are a large part of British culture and you will always see people after work or on weekends habitually visiting their local pub for a 'quick one' before heading home. While pubs are world-renowned for excellent beer and quaint interiors, a visit does not require you to drink a pint. You can eat great food, sample amazing 'fizzy drinks' or meet the patrons in their 'local'. Drinking inevitably does occur in pubs and consuming a lot of alcohol is not a good idea, both for health reasons and for your bank account. If you drink in moderation, the pub experience with friends can be great. Please make sure you always bring your personal ID with you as pub ownsers will not serve you alcohol if you like younger than 25 years old.

Smoking/Vaping - Cigarette smoking and vaping in pubs, bars and restaurants is banned in the UK. You cannot smoke in the underground, at work or in shops.

Student discounts - As a student you can get discounts in shops, cinemas, restuarants and exhibitions. Typically your stduent ID should suffice to get the discount but some places may require an NUS or ISIC card. 

Mobile phones - Look out for mobile phone store Carphone Warehouse, which offer mobile phones and SIM cards with all major providers.

Money and Banking

The currency of the United Kingdom is the Pound Sterling (£). A currency converter such as xe.com will give you the most up to date exchange rates.

The pound is divided in to 100 pence (p):

Coins: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2 and Notes (Bills): £5, £10, £20, £50

Credit Cards

Credit cards can be used for almost all purchases. Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted than American Express cards. Other credit cards are less recognised. Check with your bank if there are any surcharges applied for making foreign currency transactions.

Prepaid Cards

Preapaid cards are safe and convenient way to pay online or in shops wihtout having to carry cash around with you. These are now available from most credit card providers and are accepted worldwide. Simply preload the amount of money you wish to carry with you and use it as a normal credit card to pay for goods in shops.

Cashpoints / ATMs

The term ATM is not commonly used in the UK, so if you are looking for one you should look or ask for a cashpoint. Using an ATM card linked to your bank account at home can be one of the best ways to access money in the UK but you will normally be charged.

Before leaving home, speak to your bank to ensure your cash card can be used overseas, what fees they charge for each withdrawal and your daily withdrawal limit. Your bank should also be able to advise you where your cash card should be accepted. Both the Plus and Cirrus systems are accepted at a range of cashpoints in the UK. Make sure you know your numerical Personal Identification Number (PIN).

If you lose your card while overseas it may be very hard to replace. You should consider other ways to access your funds. Full year students may consider opening a British bank account (unfortunately this is not an option for part year students). To set up a bank account you will need an enrolment letter from the Study Abroad office and also to make an initial deposit of some funds.

Travellers’ Cheques

Travellers‘ cheques are replaced free of charge if they are lost or stolen, making them one of the safest ways to bring money with you. Remember to keep a record of their serial numbers in case you need to have them replaced. Travellers’ cheques must be converted into cash at a bank or exchange office to be used and are not generally accepted as currency.

Cheques can either be purchased in your local currency or in pounds. If purchased in pounds the exchange rate is set at the time of purchase. If purchased in your own currency the rate will be set when the cheques are cashed. Both banks and exchange bureau will charge commission when cashing the cheques.

Accommodation and bills

Most new students choose to live in a student hall of residence, and we would advise this to all Study Abroad students. It can be an easier option as you do not need to set up utility bills and pay large deposits which are often required when renting privately. Living in halls also allows you to meet other students and make friends.

Halls of residence fees generally include utility bills, but if you live privately you may have to pay for electricity, water and gas (and if you choose to have a television you will have to pay for a TV License) in addition to your rent.

Whether you chose to live in halls or private rented accommodation, we encourage you to visit Accommodation Services as they can assist you with all types of queries.

Haven't decided where to live yet? Check out our accommodation for Study Abroad students page for guidance.

Health and Wellbeing

When you arrive in London as a student, it is important to be aware of your physical, mental and sexual health. We want you to enjoy your time here and stay healthy and would encourage you to seek help if you need it. We have Student Health Advisers to give support, advice and information on your health needs. Please feel free to contact them before you arrive or at any time during your stay.

Students studying for LESS than 6 months

If you are coming to the UK from outside Europe for less than 6 months you must apply for health insurance in your own country to cover your time in the UK. This is because students studying for less than 6 months may only receive free emergency treatment on the National Health Service (NHS) – they are not allowed access to the full NHS.

Students studying for MORE than 6 months and European students

The UK has a free National Health Service (NHS) and if you are studying full-time and have permission to be in the UK as a student for longer than 6 months, or are a European student with a EHIC card, you are entitled to use it. Your sticker in your passport will probably say ‘no recourse to public funds’. Using the NHS is not using ‘public funds’.

You must register with a General Practitioner (GP). Once you have registered with your GP, you may receive free NHS medical treatment from the beginning of your stay, including free medical check-ups and hospital treatment like all UK citizens. Prescriptions cost £8.80 per item. Students living in halls of residence can register at the GP connected to their hall.

If you have a recurring health problem that requires treatments weekly or monthly, you are advised to bring your doctor’s notes and prescriptions from home so that the doctors in London can assess your situation more accurately. Please note that it is likely that you will have to pay for most of these types of treatments. If you would prefer private healthcare or alternative medicinal treatments, please note that such clinics can be very expensive.

Walk-in Centres

NHS Walk-in centres give you fast access to health advice and treatment as no appointment is necessary. Experienced NHS nurses are available to treat a range of minor illnesses, such as coughs and colds, as well as minor injuries like sprains and cuts. To find your nearest walk-in centre, please check: nhs.uk/Service-Search

For specific medicines, you will need to have a prescription filled out by your GP. However for general vitamins and health products, you can visit any pharmacy or drugstore. The main chains are Boots and Superdrug and they are located on most high streets.

Transport

London, like any other large city, is big, complicated and disorienting, especially if it’s completely new to you, so getting to grips with the public transport system is important.

Underground

You can plan your joureny on the Transport for London website (TfL). This is useful to help you find out how long it will take to travel from your residence to college, or from place to place across London. Please note that the Underground system closes around midnight, so if you want to get back home in the early hours you have two options. You can catch a night bus (check TfL for details), or take a black taxi home or pre-book a minicab - the cost is less when shared amongst friends. The Night Tube is currently running on Fridays and Saturdays nights but only on certain lines. 

Please check the TfL website before travelling to check all the lines are working. This is especially important at weekends as there are usually planned closures on certain lines and some stations may be closed. You will also find all the information you need about getting around in London.

Train

For train enquiries check National Rail enquiries. Book in advance for long distance journeys as discounts are often available.

Coach

Coaches are a great way to travel cheaply around the UK and to some European cities. They typically depart from Victoria Coach station. Coach companies include National Express  and Megabus.

Cycling

If you’re a confident cyclist, bikes can be a great way to get around. Cycle Hire  bikes (known as ‘Boris Bikes’ in the city, after the former Mayor of London) are very cheap for short trips. Docking stations can be found all over central London, and you can find out more online.

Taxis

There are two types of taxi in use in London, black cabs and minicabs. Black cabs can be hailed in the street and the fares are displayed on a meter. Minicabs must be booked in advance and you should agree a fare before starting the journey. Over long distances, minicabs often work out cheaper than black cabs. DO NOT enter the car of anybody who approaches you claiming to be a minicab driver.

It’s also a great idea to walk the city! Some tube journeys are unnecessary, and walking can really help you get to know your way around.