I didn't know what to do. I had nowhere and no-one to go to
When it comes to higher education, Indian students prefer to study in London, one of the world’s most historic and advanced cities.
It may be a harsh truth but it is still a matter of pride for people all over the world to send their kids to western countries for studies.
According to International Student Statistics, 2020, India holds second place among non-EU countries with a total of over 26,600 students currently studying in the UK.
Naturally, as any country’s capital is, London is the preferred destination with the highest number of international students.
However, London, or any new city, can be intimidating to students if they don’t know a few essential things beforehand.
Sometimes it becomes difficult for a newcomer to wrap their head around even the most mundane things like buying grocery.
The fact that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world also doesn’t help. This is also something many Indian students struggle with.
This can lead to feeling inadequate, confused and lost, something no one wants to feel when they are miles away from home.
Here are a few basic things you should know that will make your life easier before you begin studying in London:
The most important thing that one looks for is accommodation when shifting to a new city. This can be tedious if a student doesn’t know where to look for help.
Arpan Chakraborty, a 22-year-old from Kolkata, India, studies at Kingston University, London, recalls:
“It was my dream to study in London. Before coming I had talked to a guy on Facebook who was going to the same University as me.
“We had agreed that he would let me share a room in his apartment near our college.
“The day I reached here, he said that he will not be able to share the house with me for some reason.
“The hotels were closed due to Covid. I didn’t know what to do. I had nowhere and no-one to go to.
“I contacted the University and they let me stay in the common hall for two nights until I found a place.”
For reasons like these, students usually prefer to stay in their University accommodation or hostels in the initial year.
They can book en-suite or shared rooms, whatever the university provides, online on the university’s website.
These places are generally inclusive of wi-fi, electricity and water bills.
Laundry rooms, recreation areas, medical rooms, common room and other such facilities are also available on most of these campuses.
This is a very viable and comfortable option for the new students as they don’t have to struggle with basic amenities.
Then there are private residential places, like apartments and shared-rooms that are also available.
These places tend to cost lesser than University accommodation if you have flatmates to share the rent with.
They might or might not include bills and can be furnished, part-furnished or unfurnished.
There are a number of websites that help you find a suitable place to stay and let you filter options based on location, price, number of tenants, number of rooms etc.
Here are a few examples that you can check if you are looking for a place to live:
Bio-Metric Residence Permit
When you step foot in the UK, you are assigned a Bio-Metric Residence Permit (BRP). It is the legal document recognised by the UK’s government as the main identity proof, apart from the passport.
The student is required to collect their BRP card from the nearest post office.
You can find the nearest post office where you are living via a Google search.
It is very important not to lose the permit because it is a very long and tedious process to re-apply for it.
In case you lose your BRP, you can report it lost or stolen from inside or outside the UK.
However, you can only order a replacement from inside the UK.
You should report your lost BRP online and fill the BRP form in order to apply for a replacement BRP.
If you can’t report it by yourself you can ask someone to report for you, like a legal representative, a charity, employer, college, or university.
You will need to enrol your biometrics again while applying for the replacement.
It takes approximately 8 weeks to receive the new BRP card.
Opening a Bank Account
It is almost vital to have a bank account if you want to keep your money secure in a new city.
London is known for stabbing, pickpocketing and a lot of street crimes.
This makes it essential for any student to have a bank account where they can keep track of any money that comes from home or part-time jobs.
Having a bank account also lets you avoid the hassle of handling cash when you want to buy something or travel somewhere.
The UK is unlike India when it comes to money usage; people in the UK prefer to make cashless transactions.
The students should first approach any of the nearest banks via phone or in-branch and open a bank account.
Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds are the three most popular banks among Indian students.
Siddharth Sharma, an Indian student studying at Queen Mary University of London said:
“The moment I came to the UK, I realised all my friends were using debit cards. I was used to having cash and had brought some from home.
“My friends told me to open a bank account in HSBC Bank since their application process was quicker.
“I got my card in a week’s time and since then it’s been so convenient. Just tap and go everywhere!”
Registering with the NHS
The NHS is funded out of general taxes on the public. Every citizen of the UK comes under the ambit of the NHS and has the right to claim its benefits.
For international students, arriving in a new country can lead to a lot of changes.
This situation can give rise to a lot of stress and students end up paying less attention to their health.
Unfamiliar terrain, climate and food can even worsen existing health problems if students don’t take proper care.
In such a scenario, it is helpful and imperative to know where to go for treatment.
Every international student that comes to the UK is asked to pay a fixed amount in the name of health insurance while applying for a Tier 4 student visa.
After the student has paid this amount, he is allowed to receive treatment and some medicines from the NHS at no additional cost, similar to permanent UK residents.
However, this health surcharge does not cover the dental and optical treatment.
There are also exceptions for particularly expensive discretionary treatments but other than that everything is without any further charge.
This surcharge is valid for the entirety of the student’s authorised stay in the UK.
However, what students forget is that there is an important step they need to follow in order to avail themselves of this service.
They are required to go to their respective medical centre at their university, register with the NHS and get a personalised GP (General Practioner), in other words, a doctor, assigned.
The students are supposed to go to their GP if they have any medical problems and get the appropriate medicine prescribed.
The GP gives you a specific green-coloured prescription which you then take to the pharmacy (drug store).
Boots and Lloyds are well-known drug store chains in the UK and there are other privately owned pharmacies as well.
At the pharmacy, you are required to tick some boxes and sign on the prescription to collect your medicine without paying anything.
Your medicine will then be provided by the pharmacist. Note, sometimes you may have to wait or come back if they do not stock the medicine you require.
Pranav Ambady, a student at Greenwich University, London said:
“I had flu shots taken because the UK gets really cold. Many students generally take them to avoid falling sick.
I went to my GP and he administered them. I didn’t pay for anything.”
London is famous for its labyrinth-like overground and underground train services. It is also renowned for its ‘Red Buses’ that run through the city 24/7.
London is not only chosen for studies but also for its beauty. But it can become very expensive to travel inside London if you do not have the right knowledge.
In these cases, the London government offers various discount and convenience cards to its people. There are also cards and discounts aimed particularly at students.
One such card is the Oyster Card. A student over 18 years, studying in London, can get a discount on travel using the Oyster photocard.
The registration fee for that is £25 which is non-refundable.
It is promoted by Transport of London and can be used across various travel modes. This includes:
- London Underground
- London Overground
- Tram link
- National Rail Services
- Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
- London Buses
- River Boat Services
The Oyster card can be “topped-up” online or at stations and ticket offices by cash.
Another discount card that the students can use is the Railcard. Students can save 34% on off-peak travel fares if they add a Railcard to their Student Oyster photocard.
The Railcard is available in two age ranges: 16-25 and 26-30. However, you can only use the Railcard on London Tube, TfL Rail, London Overground and some National Rail services.
Takeaways and ordering food online is easy but can take a toll on your wallet and health. It is always wiser and affordable to cook your own food.
London has a lot of grocery stores and often people are confused about which one to go to. The stores vary in terms of pricing, product range and quality.
As a student, one is always under a budget and choosing the right store is important.
Sainsbury’s is a great option if you are looking for good quality stuff and even offers Indian foods like pickles and spices. It is slightly on the higher side when it comes to the price but worth it.
Another one is ASDA. This is a food haven for Indian students.
You can get almost all Indian food items like pulses, flour, sweets, Dosa batter, parathas, snacks etc here.
ASDA is also reasonably priced and you can get all your grocery for just around £20 in one go!
Another chain store that sells miscellaneous foods is Tesco. Although it only has a few Indian items, it is not a bad option if you quickly want to grab some quick stuff.
Then there is ALDI, Morrisons, Londis and Lidl. They do not have a lot of South Asian food options, but they do sell at a very, very, very reasonable price as compared to other chain stores.
If you are into organic, exotic or high-quality foods, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are the go-to stores. Bear in mind though, they will cost you a lot more in comparison.
The desi community in London also go to places like Wembley, Southall, Hounslow, Harrow, Brick Lane (East London) that are inundated with South Asian people.
They have a multitude of stores and shops that have Indian foods and other everyday items, all at very reasonable prices.
You can also google search a few local and privately-owned Indian food shops around your area. These places are a must go for the desi community.
National Insurance Number
If a student starts working part-time or full-time in the UK, they are asked to provide a National Insurance Number (NI Number) by their employer.
The National Insurance number is a social security number that’s used in the United Kingdom.
It is used for taxation purposes and to track the payment and salaries of employees working part-time or full-time.
UK government provides NI numbers to its residents when they are children. International Students, who wish to work in the UK have to apply for it.
This can be done online, via call or by going to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) office.
Students are asked to fill a form with their details and post it. The DWP then goes through it and provides you with an NI number within 10-20 days.
This is a must-have number that every student should have before they start working. This applies not only to students studying in London but all throughout the UK.
There is a huge number of students who study in London. The city acknowledges this fact and gives a lot of importance to them.
That’s probably why students in the city get a lot of perks and benefits when they buy something.
Almost every restaurant, club, bar, retail outlet or store provides a student discount on their products and services.
Even the big clothing brands like Zara, H&M or Tommy Hilfiger have student discounts.
These type of discounts are available all around the year and on the high street marketplaces.
To add to this, the UK also has blockbuster sale days/months like the Black Friday Sale that mostly falls at the end of November every year.
The Boxing Day Sale that starts a day before Christmas, is also a big sale period when students can shop to their heart’s content at crazy discounts!
Some shopping and food websites also have special student deals to cater to this wide and spendthrift customer base.
So when you are in London, don’t forget to ask for a student discount anywhere you go because it’s highly likely you will get it!
A few things to note:
Read the housing agreement carefully before signing the tenant contract.
Carry your BRP or your passport if you are going to night clubs or Restro-bars.
Keep your NI number safe.
Looking for other discount vouchers provided by Lidl or other food chains in newspapers or in the stores themselves.
If you have a Railcard, show it to the person on the ticket counter if you are physically buying a ticket or even buying online, to get a discount.
Also, carry this Railcard with you on the train because you might be asked to show it.
Living and studying in London is a dream of many but it might turn out to be not so ‘glamourous’ once you have to do mundane things.
Every country has its own way of doing things and being foreigners in a faraway land, international students are used to their own ways.
It’s essential to sort out all these pre-requisites as soon as you come to the UK so that you can focus on your studies and course.
Hence, it is always helpful if someone can tell you everything you need to know about student life in London in a check-list kind of format to get you kicking.
All the best for your time in London, make sure to make the most of it!