Things I wish I’d known before I came to the UK

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Madalina Lupu, from international student account provider UniZest:

When asked about things they wish they’d known before coming to the UK, international students have a lot to say. Here are a few examples:

  • “I wish I’d known more about the cost of public transport – I’ve spent so much by now I should have just bought a good second-hand bike.”
  • “That getting accommodation as an international student with no UK guarantor is difficult.”
  • “The accents of people in the UK are a lot different than the ones that are on TV.”
  • “That using cash is very rare in the UK (most things happen by card).”

Heading off to a new country and a different culture requires a lot of planning and you might not even be aware of some of the things you need to sort out before or after you arrive. We have pulled together a ‘listicle’ which we think you might find useful.

1. Essential things

Here are some of the essentials you will need to bring:

  • UK plug adapter: It is advisable to bring one with you if you don’t want to pay outrageous prices to buy one at the airport.
  • Compression bags: Of course it is difficult to pack your whole life into two suitcases. Try using compression sacks. You put your clothes inside and then suck the air out of the bag, maximising the space in your luggage.
  • “>Spare passport photos and copies of your passport: You might need some extra passport photos when applying for Student Passes, IDs or public transport cards. It is also worth having a couple of extra photocopies of your passport and other important documents.
  • Umbrella: Remember that you are coming to the UK, so a folding umbrella that will fit into your hand luggage is a must-have.

2. Banking system

The UK banking system might be a bit different than the banking system in your home country. Even if you already have a bank account in your name, do you have any idea what are the differences between an account number, a card number and an IBAN? Even more, have you ever heard about sort-codes? These are all terms you will need to learn in order to become familiar with the UK banking system and be prepared to make international transfers from your home country to your UK account. Here is a brief explanation of the terms mentioned above:

  • Account number: 8-digit unique number which identifies the holder of a bank account. This is used for UK to UK bank transfers.
  • Card number: 16-digit number written on the front of your bank card. Used for online purchases.
  • IBAN: Stands for International Bank Account Number, and it is used when making or receiving international transfers.
  • Sort-code: It is a six-digit number which identifies the bank and the branch where your account is held (format: xx-yy-zz). Together with the account number, it can usually be found written on your bank card.

Opening a UK bank account should be one of your top priorities. You will need to book an appointment with a bank as soon as you get here and it can take weeks to get your account opened. Some bank names you might want to research in advance are Barclays, Santander and HSBC.

However, you can also open an online account offered by UniZest, which is designed specifically for international students. You can apply online and open it before you leave home, deposit funds and start making payments out. This means that you arrive in the UK with everything sorted and receive your card overnight.

3. Getting a job

The list with things you need to know before coming to the UK can be quite extensive but we had to choose a few to write about. The last one we decided on was finding and getting a part-time job.

One of the first and most important things you need to do is apply for a National Insurance Number (NINo). This is a unique personal number used to record National Insurance contributions (taxes). You do not need to have a NINo before starting work, but you must obtain one when you get a job.

Finding work can be challenging if you don’t know where to look. You can find advertisements for jobs in your local newspapers, in shops, on notice boards around your university or college, in the careers service or your Students’ Union. There are many job search websites and job agencies. Check out this UKCISA article which explains more about the process of getting a job and the things you need to look out for.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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