All about living in London
Are you ready for the best, most exciting time of your life?
We have compiled a list of some websites which might be useful in preparing you for the differences you might experience while living abroad.
- UK Council for International Student Affairs
- Prepare for Success
- Study Abroad.com
- London Met international student advice
- Education UK has a guide to Life in the UK
Money and Insurance
It is strongly recommended that you purchase travel insurance before departing for London. This will cover you for all emergency events, including your health and personal belongings. There are plenty of providers available, so please shop around.
Managing your money
Bank accounts are difficult to open due to money-laundering regulations, so it's almost impossible to open an account if you're here just for one semester. Instead, speak to your bank at home and look at options for getting money out abroad. You'll find that nearly all businesses will take some form of payment card and, depending on your bank, you may be able to use your debit card from home to take out money at various cash machines. However, find one that doesn't charge a fortune every time you withdraw money in a foreign currency.
Even if you're here for the full eight months it can be extremely difficult to open an account. Some banks offer the opportunity to pay a high fee each month in exchange for an account.
Called "Cash Points" in the UK, this is the easiest way to access your money while abroad. You must speak to your bank at home before leaving, and ensure that your debit card is part of a global network such as CIRRUS or PLUS, that you only have a four digit pin, and what charges are associated with drawing cash out abroad.
UK bank opening hours
Banks are generally open Monday – Friday from 9am – 5pm. Most major banks with branches located on the high street also open for a short time in the morning on Saturdays (often 9am – midday).
Exchanging foreign money
If you come over with foreign currency, make sure you exchange it at either a bank or a post office. These places offer no commission. Other places such as private cheque-cashing offices, stores, and "Bureau de Change" offices will charge high commission rates.
You'll hear "NHS" used a lot when it comes to talking about health related issues. The NHS (the National Health Service) is the medical service available to all those who are: residents of Great Britain, EU citizens, and those paying taxes. Everyone will receive emergency medical treatment though, including residents or visitors.
If you are not an EU citizen and your course of study is less than six months, you are not entitled to free or subsidised medical care (except in emergencies). You should take out medical insurance before your arrival in the United Kingdom. If you have not obtained appropriate cover, treatment can be pricey.
There are a few walk-in clinics, but these aren't open 24 hours. Instead you can call the NHS on their non-emergency number at 111. This is a 24-hour phone line manned by nurses who can help assess your condition over the phone.
If you aren't able to wait at a walk-in clinic during the day, and it's not quite as serious, you may want to try the local pharmacy (Boots, Lloyds Chemist, Tesco, Asda), as the pharmacists there are good resources and are sometimes able to advise you on a course of action.
Going to the doctor
In order to make an appointment with a doctor (GP), you will need to be registered at a specific practice, but you can always see a doctor at a walk-in clinic if you're not registered – it might just take longer.
In order to register you need to prove your identity and address, and once you've done this you need to make an appointment to register with the nurse.
Even though most people use the NHS, there is a private option. Using a private clinic/surgery will usually cost more, and the medications will be full price.
If you have an ongoing condition that you were receiving treatment for back home, you might want to consider registering for a doctor. However, for many students, the walk-in centres meet their medical needs very well. To find local doctors and health services use the NHS service finder.
Emergencies and hospitals
If you are in an emergency situation call 999! This is the emergency number here in the UK, and will put you though to the police, fire service, and/or ambulance. This is a FREE call from any phone including your mobile, which you don't have to pay a premium for.
Not all hospitals are able to assist in an emergency, so call 999 and the ambulance will take you to the hospital with an Emergency Unit. If it's something less serious but can't wait until morning, then you can go to the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at one of the hospitals that is equipped with the services you need, or call 111. You will not be charged for visits to an emergency room, but you may have to pay if you are admitted overnight.
Make sure that before you leave home you complete your dental check-ups and any work you need completed. Dental treatment here without insurance can be quite expensive, however it's quite easy to make an appointment with a dentist.
Find a dentist in your area look under Dentists on the NHS website.
For emergency dental work please call the NHS on 111.
Transport for London
Travelling around London is extremely easy and safe.
The transport in London is extremely user-friendly with colour-coded, clear maps available around the city. Like most cities around the world, London has been broken up into sections – or zones. These range from zone 1 to zone 9, with zone 1 being the most central, and zone 9 being the furthest out into the suburbs.
As the oldest transportation network in the world, you can use the tube to get most places, but please don't limit yourself to only taking the underground. While it is a great way to navigate London, there are other ways to travel around the city which can be equally efficient and fun!
The Tube closes between midnight and 1am (though check the TFL website for plans to run certain tubes 24 hours), so if you plan on being out late at night, learn about your local night bus. Buses are an excellent way to transport yourself around the capital above ground, allowing you to see the beautiful architecture and parks that it has to offer. It's also cheaper on a pay-as-you-go Oyster card. Every bus stop has a mini map of buses that go from that stop, and where they go, making it easy to find out how long it will take, and what bus to hop on, in order to reach your destination.
As you're going to be living in London, an Oyster card is the most cost-effective way to travel around the city. There are two options with an Oyster card, you can either pay as you go, or you can purchase a Travelcard which allows unlimited travel within a specified area for a week or month. Both of these can be topped up at Tube or Rail stations.
The Oyster Card can be used on the: bus, tube, DLR, London Overground and National Rail services within London. For more information about how the system works see Getting Around with Oyster.
Cycling and walking
In reality, London itself is quite a small city, at least in area. This means that often, it is faster to walk than to take the underground or the bus. Using yourself as a mode of transport can be a great way to see the city, as well as keeping fit. By walking you'll discover restaurants and pubs you wouldn't have if you were underground, as well as hidden courtyards to sneak off to and read a book. A piece of advice when you come to London: walk everywhere and look up. There is so much beauty waiting to be discovered.
If you need to go a bit further, or you need to get there in a hurry, use the cycle-hire scheme through Santander. Nicknamed "Boris Bikes" for London's previous Mayor Boris Johnson, who helped introduce the scheme, these bike ports are available throughout the city. You can pay in advance for a key, or pay as you go for a 24-hour period, and all you have to do is unlock the bike from the port and when you're finished with it drop it off at another port.
London’s famous “black cabs” are available throughout the city at designated locations near train stations or attractions or by hailing one off the street. These cabs charge consistent metered and posted rates and some accept credit cards.
London is also served by independently owned and operated "minicabs". Only use licensed mini-cabs that you have ordered by phone. It is illegal for minicabs to look for business on the street, so you can forget about hailing these cabs.
Never get in a minicab that has pulled up outside a busy nightclub and offers you a ride home. Always ask the driver who he has come to collect, never offer your name first. If you follow these rules minicabs are great for cheap fares to and from airports, and if there are many of you, the cost goes down. It is dangerous to get into an unlicensed cab so remember... only use officially licensed taxicabs and licensed minicabs!
To and from London airports
- Gatwick: You can take the Gatwick Express or regular mainline trains from the South Terminal to Victoria Station.
- Heathrow: Take the tube (Piccadilly Line) from one of three stops: Terminals 1,2 & 3; Terminal 5, or Terminal 4 (all are in Zone 6). Journey time to Central London is about one hour and costs between £3 and £5. Alternatively you can take the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, it takes about 15 minutes and costs £22 for a single ticket.
- Stansted: Take the Stansted Express train to Liverpool Street tube station.
- Luton: Thameslink run regular services to central London.
- City: If you are lucky enough to be able to fly into City airport in Docklands then there is a short journey on the Docklands Light Railway to connect you with four different underground lines for your onward journey.
It may also be cheaper to get a bus/coach to the airport. See easyBus or other providers for more information.
Note: The Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Express trains will give you a discount with your International Student Identity Card (ISIC), but you must show it to the ticket agent when purchasing your ticket.