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International student: What do I do now?

Essential advice on your new life as a student in the UK

What documents will I need when I arrive?

First up, your passport. It’s best to make sure that this is valid for the duration of your stay in the UK, avoiding the cost and difficulties of transferring your visa to a new passport later down the line. You may also need to show the acceptance letter from your place of study, as well as proof of your own funds (or that of a sponsor) to pay your way, such as your last three bank statements. Be sure to carry all your documentation in your hand luggage – where it is easy to get at – and take a few photocopies of all important papers, just in case.

Are there any other immigration requirements?

Some students will have to provide health records as they enter the UK, especially for those coming from countries where there is compulsory screening for tuberculosis (TB); take a look at the UK Border Agency website (see Web watch box) to find out where this applies. Others may have to register with the police within seven days of their arrival; this will be indicated on your visa. If you need to register, your university can direct you to the right police station.

Where do I go when I first arrive?

Before jumping in the first taxi you see, find out what transport arrangements your university has running to get you to campus. Many have welcoming parties to meet international students at major airports and can direct you from there.

What about health services?

Students staying longer than six months are entitled to free health care from the National Health Service (NHS).You will simply need to register with the local doctor, or check if there are health centres on campus; your university can point these out. Remember to also bring any prescriptions you will need or details of any ongoing medical conditions. If you are staying for less than six months, you will not be automatically entitled to NHS services. In this case, it is essential to get appropriate medical insurance to cover the costs of any treatment.

Am I allowed to work while I study?

The majority of international students can work for up to 20 hours a week while studying, except for those whose passport sticker clearly state: “No work”. If this is the case for you, getting a job is against your immigration status and is illegal. You can apply to change your conditions, though this will cost you money. Speak to the international adviser at your university to see how much and what it entails.

If you do plan to work, nearly all universities have career services which can offer you employment advice and some can match you up with local jobs. But remember that you cannot use this extra income as proof that you are able to pay for your studies. The only exception is if you have a work placement lined up as part of a sandwich course or have a proven offer of work within the publicly funded institution you are at.

What other money matters should I think about?

“Many fail to anticipate the full cost of their studies,” says Dominic Scott of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA). “International students - always know the cost of fees. What they don’t know so much about is all the extra costs, from library fees to transport to gym membership. These can mount up quite considerably.” However, help is at hand in the form of the international student calculator. This balances your budget by looking at what money you have and what your living costs are likely to be.

Where can I get more advice?

The international student advice office at your university will serve as your key point of contact when you arrive, so keep their details to hand. They can answer individual queries, often by phone as well as online, and will continue to offer support throughout the year. As Karen Griffith, international student adviser at Leeds Metropolitan University says, “Don’t panic. If you don’t remember everything at the beginning, just remember the person or department you can go to for help. You are not on your own and you don’t have to memorise every single thing.That’s what the university support services are there for.”

Will I need to adjust to life and study in the UK?

“Higher education in the UK can be completely different to what you may have done in your own country,” explains Scott. “You may have to put quite a lot effort into adjusting to UK learning styles.” Universities are aware of a possible culture shock, which is why many provide orientation days for international students. In addition, the Prepare for Success website allows you to get a taste of learning methods and explores the cultural challenges others have faced.

Web watch

UK Council for International Student Affairs

International student calculator

Prepare for Success

UK Border Agency

British Council offices