Life Abroad
10 min

What To Keep in Mind When Moving to the UK

StudyFree mentor Ksenia Nikitina completed a master's degree in financial management in London. After graduation, she got a job at Smart Insider, a company that collects and analyzes data on insider deals.

Ksenia has been living in the UK for six years now and is well familiar with the local realities. We asked her to share her thoughts on what international students should remember when moving to this country.

Buying a Local SIM Card 

The major mobile networks in the UK are EE, Vodafone, British Telecom, Virgin Media, o2, Giffgaff, and Lebara. You can only buy a local number from them or a SIM card along with a new phone.

If you only need a SIM card, the connection will cost you £15-25 (1,400-2,400 rubles) a month, depending on what the tariff includes. If you intend to stay in the UK for a long time, you can get a mobile phone contract for a year. Each month a fixed amount will be automatically charged from your card. It’s the so-called direct debit. The amount is specified in the contract and does not change. There are no concealed fees. Additional services, such as roaming, can be purchased online.

If you've come for a shorter period, you can make on-the-go payments. Every month you top up your SIM card online or at a kiosk (you need to get a receipt with the top-up code and call the mobile operator’s number). If you forget to pay, you won't be able to call, text, or use the Internet.  

Recently, it has become popular in the UK to buy a new phone together with a SIM card. The offer works based on the principle of micro installment. During 24-36 months, you pay a fixed amount every month, which includes the cost of the smartphone and a plan that allows you to make calls, text, and use the Internet.

For example, a two-year contract with EE for iPhone 13 Pro, which stipulates 40 GB of Internet per month and unlimited calls, costs £65 (6,350 rubles) per month with a down payment of £50 (4,890 rubles). The Samsung Galaxy S21 with 100GB of Internet by the same operator is £45 (4,400 rubles) a month for two years with a down payment of £100 (9,780 rubles).

Under this scenario, many operators offer extra bonuses such as access to Amazon Prime for £5.99 (586 rubles) instead of £7.99 (780 rubles) or free Apple Music for the first six months (£9.99, or 978 rubles per month after this period is over). My advice is to thoroughly look through subscriptions you activate when you sign the contract. If you are not going to use them, don't forget to deactivate them after the trial period.

You can also use the trade-in service where you give your old phone in good condition and get a new one with a major discount plus extra bonuses.

Register With the Police

All international students entering the UK must register with the local police department. Those who don’t do this, run all kinds of risks, from a fine of up to £5,000 (480,350 rubles) and imprisonment for six months to expulsion from the UK and a ruined immigration record.

If you study in London, you can register online with the Overseas Visitors Records Office (OVRO). You need to set up an account and pick a day when you will come to receive your certificate of registration. The system can automatically set a date in a couple or three months, but you have to create an account and choose a date within seven days of your arrival. If you study outside the capital, you need to register at the nearest police station. You can find out the relevant address at your university.

Registration Certificate costs £34 (3,325 rubles) and confirms your legal status. It has to track all the changes in your life in the UK, including address, visa type, marital status, change of passport, places of work and study, etc. I’ve never actually had to use this certificate. However, if I am a witness in court, for example, they may ask me to show it. So you’d better  know exactly where you keep it.

Open a Bank Account

To get your scholarship, salary, as well as pay for services and make purchases, you need a local bank account and a card linked to it. I recommend considering high-street banks that have branches all around the city. For example, Lloyds, HSBC, and Barclays come to student fairs often and tell about themselves. Lately, online banks like Monzo have become popular too.

If you have proof of address, which we'll talk about later, and you're going to live in the UK for more than six months, you can open the following types of accounts:

  • Current account. This is an ordinary account to which you link a valid card. It's great for auto pays and shopping. It is free and can be used for salary or scholarship. However, you do not get any interest on your balance.
  • Savings account. Savings accounts differ only in the size of interest on the balance, the cost of monthly maintenance, and whether they have compound interest.

Banks offer different bonuses to the holders of savings accounts. For example, Barclays gives £9 (880 rubles) a month if you sign up for a few auto pays and insurance. A savings account will cost you £4 (390 roubles) a month. So you "earn" £5 (489 roubles) every month. No big money, but it’s nice to have it.

 Online banks like Monzo or Starling have higher interest rates on savings accounts, but there's a set period during which you can't use the money: 6, 12, or 18 months. Barclays, Santander, HSBC, and Lloyds also have these, but there are more flexible deposit options: as long as the account is open, you can withdraw and add money.


Register with a GP

The UK has a public healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS). Their services are free for UK citizens. To get a student, work, or family visa, all foreigners must pay the NHS surcharge.

The amount depends on the type of visa, your nationality, age, and the duration of your program. International students usually pay £470 (46,000 rubles) per year.

This is standard state insurance that only covers basic medical care and procedures. For example, you can register with a General Practitioner. GPs are the doctors you can go to with any health concerns. They refer patients to hospitals and other medical services for urgent and specialist treatment.

You can find the doctor closest to you here by entering your city name or postal code. Another option is to just go to any office and see if they are accepting new patients. They will give you a form to fill in and then inform you about your registration with the GP by sending you a paper letter.

You can also get an appointment with an NHS GP online using this service. The problem is, though, that sometimes you might have to wait weeks or months before they call you. That's why more expensive private insurance is a big plus for you when you are being considered for a job.

Figure Out How To Pay Utility Bills

If you rent a room in a house with other students, utility bills are usually not included in the rent and must be paid separately.

If your contract lasts less than six months, the gas, water, and electricity bills are usually in the name of someone else, most likely the landlord or a tenant with a longer contract. This person collects "tribute" from the residents and pays the collective bill. So if you are going to study for up to six months, I’d recommend you to stay in a dormitory or find a place where the utilities are already included in the rent.

If your stay is long-term, you need to transfer utilities to your name. To do this, you will need proof of address. Hardly any bureaucratic issues in the UK can be solved without it. You can lose your visa or passport. You can even lose your face, honor, and moral values. However, you cannot lose your proof of address. The contract of tenancy is not accepted everywhere as proof of address, so it is easier to provide a utility bill or hostel residence proof.

If you're responsible for the utilities, figure out how to pay the bills. The contract for gas and electricity is with one of the local providers. You can contact them to choose the best plan. With water, there is usually a single provider for the city. In London, for example, Thames Water is in charge of the “water world”.

As for gas bills, you can pay them by inserting a top-up card into a prepayment meter. You can top it up in one of the local convenience stores. These are small corner shops. 

You can also pay your electricity and water bills online by setting up auto payments on your bank account.

Install Transport Apps

The UK boasts a developed and well-functioning public transport infrastructure. Apps like Citymapper will help you navigate better, find the best routes, and know when the bus is coming.

Cabs in the UK are not cheap, but if you need to get home after a party at night, it might be the only option. The price of a ride does not depend on how you contact the service (by phone or through an app) but on the operator. Traditional black cabs that we see in movies are the fanciest and most expensive. You can use Uber or find small local cab services. For example, if I need to go to the airport in London, I prefer Bee Taxi.

Remember that trains can be delayed and canceled in the UK just like everywhere else. If you see "Delayed" on the board, there's still a chance that you will be able to get where you need to go. However, if it is "Cancelled”, you can give a heavy sigh, start looking for an alternative, and then request a refund from the transport operator. This works both for intercity trains, and within the city.

Different transportation companies have different rules for processing refunds. For example, recently my colleague and I were going to work in central London. I was going from another part of the city, and he was going from Harlow near London. My colleague bought a paper Greater Anglia ticket, while I paid for my ride with my Transport for London (TFL) contactless card. 

Somewhere between Harlow and my station, the train derailed. My colleague immediately requested a refund on his company's app. All he needed to do was to make a few clicks. Meanwhile, I had paid for having to stand on the platform for a while listening to the announcements about train cancellations. TFL's e-ticket refund procedure is so perplexing that you don't want to get into it for the sake of three or four pounds. 

Regularly Check Your Mailbox

E-mail, digitalization, and online services are great but good old-fashioned mail is sacred in Britain. Original documents, bills, and letters of notification are usually sent to your postal address. So check your mailbox regularly if you don’t want to miss something important.

Find Out How Waste Sorting Works

Well, waste sorting is not that complicated in the UK! That’s what I was saying while emptying the contents of a teabag into the compost, then throwing the bag into the general trash bin, and putting the label into the recyclables.

I have several trash bins at home. A 120L black one is for general trash and a 120L green one is for recyclables. Another 30L bin is to store compost. Recyclable trash and compost are picked up once a week, while general trash is collected every two weeks. I'm also thinking of buying a brown tank for yard waste, such as sticks, twigs, and old leaves.

Trash here generally falls into three categories: non-recyclables (general), compost, and recyclables. There are many nuances though. For example, store bags and foil cannot be recycled. The same applies to broken glass. Meanwhile, bottles go into recyclables.

Other non-recyclable garbage includes coffee cups, chip cans like the Pringles ones, shredded paper, and paper hand towels if they have food scraps on them. Wet cloth towels are recyclable.

Also, keep in mind that you can't pour oil down the sink when cooking. Developed during the Victorian age, the London sewer system gets clogged all the time! Old clothes can be donated to charity or put in the general trash.

You can find out more about recycling in the UK here. The main rule is that whenever you’re having doubts, go for a general waste bin.

By Ksenia Nikitina