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Phones

International calls can be extremely expensive, however, there are various platforms available on smartphones such as Skype, Facetime (iOS), iMessage (iOS), Whatsapp, Facebook, and Viber which are free to use internationally.

Unfortunately, phone theft is quite common in London, so make sure not to leave your phone in places which are easily accessed such as back pockets. It is also advisable to take out a basic insurance plan when buying a mobile phone.

Postal Service

The Royal Mail is the main postal service in the UK and has a wide variety of services. Check out their website for more information about these services.

Currently, a UK standard first class stamp is 67p and UK standard second class stamp is 58p.

Banking

One of the first things that you should do after arriving is to set up a bank account if you don’t already have one. Most banks and building societies will expect you to have a UK address before opening an account, so you will need to have proof of identification and a UK address at the ready.

To open a student bank account, you will also require proof from the College that you are a full time enrolled student. You will be able to request this from Student & Academic Services during Freshers’ Week.

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. However, 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.

Tax Rates

The current Value Added Tax (VAT) in the UK is 20%. Shops and restaurants will already have the VAT included in their published prices.

Some bars and restaurants may decide to add an extra gratuity charge onto your bill, of approximately 10-12%; however this is optional to pay. It is advised to tip waiters and waitresses if their service is good.

Supermarkets

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 food too; the markets are also a great resource.

Useful Apps

London can feel huge and bustling at first, however there are various apps available which will help you to navigate the city and all it has to offer. Check out the following:

Citymapper – A must-have app which makes travelling around London a breeze

Uber – An essential in many cities, Uber is the cheaper alternative to the iconic London black cab

Mobike – Similar to London’s Boris Bikes, the main difference being that you can park your Mobike anywhere

Deliveroo or Uber Eats – A go-to dinner when studying late

Dusk – Explore London and its nightlife by taking advantage of the free drinks and discounts that Dusk offers

TV

If have a TV at home and want to watch British channels, you will need to purchase an annual TV Licence. Check out the TV Licensing website for more information about this.

Currently, TV Licence prices are as follows:

  • £150.50 for a colour TV Licence
  • £50.50 for a black and white TV Licence

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 or driving licence. Although the legal drinking age in the UK is 18, some bars and venues will hold over 21s evenings and 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.

Be sure to check how to get to a from your event – Public transport can be limited in the early hours of the morning.