How much does living in the UK cost, and how can you finance your time here?
Before coming to the UK as a student, it is important that you understand how much living and studying in the UK costs.
Students from outside the EEA (European Economic Area) require visas to be allowed entry in the UK and, to qualify, they must be able to show that they can meet their course fees and cover their monthly living costs, and be able to support themselves during their whole stay in the UK without using public funds. All students – even those from within Europe – need to have a clear understanding of how much money they will need.
Although tuition fees will be your biggest costs, studying in the UK is good value for money. Degree courses are generally shorter than in other English-speaking countries, such as the USA and Australia, with UK programmes usually lasting three, rather than four, years. This means that you can save a whole year’s worth of fees and living costs. For more information about specific costs relating to studying further education and higher education programmes, see Study costs in the UK.
There are many scholarship programmes and grants available that can help international students pay for their studies. You should start making enquiries and applications for scholarships at least a year in advance of the time you will start your study programme. Competition for scholarships and grants in the UK is very strong, so you should research your options and the requirements of various programmes thoroughly. For more specific information about financial aid relating to further education or higher education, see Finding a scholarship.
Living expenses in the UK vary between cities, regions and countries. Remember that major cities, especially London, tend to be more expensive than anywhere else in the UK. Also, the further north you are in the UK, the lower the cost of living tends to be. Very roughly, you should expect living costs of about £800 a month in London and about £650 a month elsewhere.
The British Council’s budget planner for students suggests the following monthly costs (UK average) for students in the UK:
- hall fees/rent: £320 (but much more in the centre of big cities, especially London)
- utility bills: £0
- mobile phone: £25
- travel/transport: £30 (obviously, this will vary a lot, depending on where you are living and how much travelling you need to do – up to perhaps £100 per month inside London)
- food/housekeeping: £140
- clothes/shoes: £40
- leisure/sport: £25
- books/stationery: £40
- socialising: £120
- other expenses/luxury: £15.
The UNAID International Student Calculator also gives a detailed picture of the likely costs (making allowance for which part of the UK you may be in) as part of its aim to help international students effectively plan and manage their money when in the UK.
Your accommodation options will depend to some extent on your chosen institution. Some universities and colleges offer their own accommodation, and some can even arrange for you to stay with a British family.
University accommodation is convenient, as it is likely to be close to where you study and will give you the opportunity to make friends and get to know people who are studying with you. You may have your own room or you may share with another student. The accommodation is likely to have a communal kitchen and be self-catering. In some cases, a college warden also lives on site.
You may be able to choose a homestay, where you live at home with a British family. This can be an enjoyable experience, but you must be prepared to adapt to your new ‘family’ and fit into their lifestyle. A homestay can be an excellent way to learn about British culture and improve your English if you need to. Generally, you will have your own room or you may share with another student.
It is also possible to live in private accommodation, although you may find this difficult to arrange before you arrive in the UK. Tenants are usually required to pay one month’s rent in advance, as well as one month’s or six weeks’ deposit. You can find out about private accommodation by contacting estate agents and letting agents, or by searching for available properties on the internet.
Find out more about accommodation options in the UK.
Working while you study
If you are enrolled on a course of at least six months you will be allowed to work part time (up to 20 hours a week) during term time and full time during the holidays, subject to certain restrictions. However, you should not rely on working to fund your studies. You should calculate how many hours a week you are realistically able to juggle your studies and work, and how much you can then earn. Most students opt for part-time work in retail or hospitality.
Hana Janeckova from the Czech Republic, for example, worked part time at a pub while studying at King’s College in London. ‘Originally I looked for office work, but most places were unwilling to take me on for only 20 hours a week,’ explains Hana. ‘I then walked around my local area and dropped my CV off at all the pubs. I ended up working as a waitress on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for £5.60 an hour, plus tips. The work was fun, but it didn’t leave me with much to live on in London.’
Hana’s advice to international students is to try and find more skilled positions, such as research work at your university or translation work, as the pay is usually better. Hospitality work in bars, cafés and restaurants is still a popular choice for students, both local and international, as the hours are flexible and the work is social. In the UK hospitality industry, there is also the opportunity to earn more money through tips.
How do I find a job?
You can look for jobs in local papers, at job centres, on the internet and on public noticeboards, or you can register with recruitment agencies (some deal specifically with students and part-time positions). Most universities also have a careers service or job centre with a list of advertised jobs. Volunteering is a useful way to gain skills in your field of interest, and will make you a good candidate for a paid position if one comes up.
Advice from your students’ union
Help and advice about student funding, living costs and study costs is available from the National Union of Students (NUS). You can pick up your union card from your local students’ union, which entitles you to various privileges and discounts, such as cheaper cinema tickets and discounts in shops, pubs and restaurants. Find out more on the NUS website.
Although the cost of studying in the UK may seem daunting, it’s worth remembering some of the advantages:
- In most cases, you can get your degree in three years rather than the standard four as in countries like the USA and Australia, which means that you can spend less on study and start earning sooner.
- If you are enrolled on any full-time course in Scotland or a course lasting at least six months anywhere else in the UK, you are eligible for free healthcare from the UK National Health Service.
- UK students are eligible for a wide range of discounts. Often, local retailers offer students discounts on items like clothes, books and drinks.
- You will often be able to get lower-priced entry for concerts, cinemas and museums.
- UK universities have great facilities and you can save money on books by using their well-stocked libraries.
You can get further advice on saving money and budgeting by talking to your students’ union or student welfare adviser.