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Key things to know

We understand that moving to a new country, climate and culture can be a daunting prospect, so this guide is designed to help answer all those questions you may have from the initial move to getting around the city.

We hope that you find this guide helpful as it aims to offer background facts as well as practical information for moving to the UK and more specifically, living in London.

General useful tips

The following list is not exhaustive, so please do not hesitate to contact the team in the student support office for further information and advice or contact Beth Tomlinson, our Tier 4 compliance coordinator, with any questions about your visa.

Banking

Most banks and building societies expect you to have a UK address before opening an account, so you will need proof of identification and a UK address to open a current account. Usually a debit card is issued; however, a simple cash card to withdraw money from ATMs is also an option.

There are usually no annual charges on maintaining a bank account, unlike some other countries. You may be charged commission if using your card abroad or in the case where an ATM states there is a charge to use the service.

Generally you can use an ATM to withdraw money and check your balance from any machine (not necessarily your bank’s machine) without incurring a fee. Online banking is also widely used.

You will need to set up your account and many banks and building societies will send you a card reader and PIN to access the service. To open a student bank account, you also require proof from the College that you are a full time enrolled student. This can be obtained from the student support office.

Supermarkets and groceries

The main UK supermarkets are:

  • Low price: Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Lidl
  • Mid price: Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco
  • High end: Marks & Spencer, Waitrose

Halal food is widely found in London, both in supermarkets and smaller shops. These items of food are always clearly marked. Most supermarkets around London sell international foods stuffs; the markets too are a great resource.

Mail and postal service

The Royal Mail has a wide variety of services. Please refer to their website for more information. A UK standard first class stamp costs 63p and a second class stamps costs 54p.

Telephone

It is probably more economical to make international phone calls by using phone cards, available from most newsagents.

If you are interested in obtaining a mobile phone, there are many high street shops that sell both pay-as-you-go handsets and contract phones. Contract phones usually have better tariffs for messaging and ‘free’ minutes but minimum contractual periods are often 24 months.

Unfortunately, phone theft is quite common, so you might consider taking out a basic insurance plan when buying a mobile phone.

Useful numbers:

  • Operator 100 – can be called also to make reverse charge calls
  • International operator – 115

Payphones accept coins (£1, 50p, 20p, 10p).

Television

If you decide to watch a TV, you will need to purchase an annual TV licence – more information can be found at www.tvlicensing.co.uk.

Tax rates

The current Value Added Tax (VAT) in the UK is 20 per cent. Shops and restaurants will already have the VAT included in their published prices, unlike the USA, for example, where the VAT is added additionally.

Some bars and restaurants may decide to add an extra gratuity charge onto your bill, of approximately 10 to 12 per cent; however, this is optional to pay.

Nightlife

Most places that serve alcohol, such as bars and nightclubs, will request a form of identification for entrance. Accepted forms of ID are usually either your passport photo or driving licence.

Although the legal drinking age in the UK is 18, some bars and venues will hold over 21s evenings and as such, will not allow entry to those under the age of 21.

Smoking in public places in the UK is not permitted. Some bars and clubs will have a designated outdoor smoking area, but this varies from place to place.

On-the-spot fines of £80 are issued if you are caught throwing a cigarette butt in the street by a police officer.