How to Survive London as an International Student


Living in London as an international student is totally thrilling, plus it’s like a whirlwind of changes coming your way! Change is an exciting concept that can help us increase our resilience and capacity for learning. But it can also be challenging. The culture shock of moving to London as an international student can be abrupt. Life in the city might not be like anywhere you have experienced before. The UK’s capital is a beautiful place, but it’s also unstructured. There is modern life splashed in with historic architecture everywhere. Adjusting to London life as an international student might take some time. To lend a hand, we’ve put together an ultimate guide with everything you need to know about how to survive London as an international student.

Make connections before you move

Moving to a new city when you don’t know anyone can be hard going. If you want to survive in sociable London as an international student, then it may be a good idea to form connections in the city before you move. You could join a Facebook group or take advantage of the induction events held by your university. That way, when you get to London, you will be welcomed by familiar faces who are in the same boat as you. If you have friends in the city before you arrive, you will feel less lonely in your first few weeks.

If you are moving to study at UWS London as an international student, you can take full advantage of our helpful induction weeks, lively social events, collaborative Facebook pages, welcoming International Student Advisors and virtual Global Hangouts.

Figure Out How to Call Home

Just like you’ll want to make connections before you leave for London, you will also want to figure out the best way to contact people from home. There are so many free platforms to make international video calls just using the internet. But it’s a good idea to make sure you tell friends and family the best (and cheapest) way to reach you before you move. That way, you won’t have to worry about helping your relatives download software from a thousand miles away and you can easily reconnect if you’re missing home.

Prepare to Queue for Everything

You have probably heard this one before, but it still has to be said. Londoners are renowned for starting an orderly queue for anything. From going down stairs to getting on a train. We know this isn’t something that people around the world do. But it’s an unspoken cultural thing that Londoners have very seriously adopted. This might not be something that you are used to, but to survive in London as an international student it’s good to be aware that queueing is a regular occurrence here. 

You’ll Find Traffic Everywhere

One thing you will definitely notice about London is how much traffic there is. London is a rapid city that always seems to be on the move. You can expect to find black cabs, red buses and delivery vans scooting about the city on a daily basis. Finding a zebra crossing or an island is your best bet for getting from one side of the street to the other. At a zebra crossing, it’s the law that traffic stops for you in England, but with an island crossing, you have to wait for a gap or for a driver to stop for you from the kindness of their hearts.

The Pavement Gets Busy Too!

The traffic in London is not limited to the roads. Over 30 million tourists are estimated to visit London every year – and the streets prove it! When walking the city mid-week, especially around Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street and Westminster, you will be sure to find sightseers mooching around and businesspeople dashing to get to meetings across the city. This means that walking in these areas can be slow and stopping to tie your shoelaces in the middle of the street might be a bad idea. There are lots of places you can step to the side if you need to pause for a while.

Find quiet spaces to recharge

The streets of London may be busy, but don’t let that thought put you off. There are quiet spots and peaceful havens weaved everywhere amongst the crowds. When living in London, you will soon learn where the quiet hideaway spots are that you can rest and recharge. You will also figure out which train lines to skip at certain times of the day (like rush hour). For quiet places to study in London, check out our list of top venues.

Managing Your Expenses can be Tricky

Life in London as an international student can be very expensive. But you still might be surprised at just how costly life can become! It isn’t just the food and social events that dent your pockets. Travelling around the city on public transport can also add up. Even though the city can be pricey, there are ways to live here on a budget. Here are some tips on how to manage the expenses of living in the UK’s capital:

The best thing you can do is budget effectively when you first move to London to keep an eye on your expenditure. With a clear plan about how much money you have for food, travel, studies, rent and socialising, you will be able to manage your expenditure much better.

Make sure you apply for a Student 18+ Oyster card when you first arrive to save 30% on public transport journeys. If you love to cycle, consider using your student discount to pay for an annual cycle hire membership, which lets you travel around London by bike for approximately 20p per day.

Take your student card with you everywhere you go and ask if there are student discounts available. Numerous cafés, restaurants and venues will give student discounts, even if they don’t advertise it. You can also search online for a student discount or voucher code before you book anything. Websites like student beans are a lifesaver, and some venues will give you a discount if you pre-book rather than pay at the door.

If you are heading out on a night out, stick to the clubs that give you free entry, or at least free entry before certain times. That way, your only expense is your drinks. You can also take advantage of the many free attractions that London has to offer. There are so many things to do in London that won’t cost you a penny – like sightseeing, visiting parks, exploring museums, watching outdoor cinemas and so much more. Search around for free events that are taking place to save as much money as you can when enjoying your downtime.

For more money advice for international students living in London, read our post on the most important things you need to know

Prepare for Potential Culture Shock

If you haven’t heard of culture shock, then we’re here to tell you that it’s a real thing! Academics across the globe have studied its effects on international students. It can go a little something like – riding the high of the honeymoon stage when you first move, to feeling like you’ve crashed and you miss home after a few months. The best way to overcome culture shock is to be prepared for it. You can read more about the stages of culture shock and how to deal with it here. But in summary, it’s important to keep an open mind and remember that how you feel is normal. It’s also a good idea to build a support network around you that you can reach out to when you are feeling low. Don’t forget that London is a cultural melting pot. There are thousands of international students in London, just like you.  Seize this opportunity to make friendships and bond with people from all walks of life and corners of the globe.

Public Transport is a Giant Puzzle

Mastering the art of how to survive in London includes learning to navigate the city’s bustling streets and expansive boroughs through its network of buses, trains, and underground lines is paramount. Transport for London (most commonly referred to as TfL) is the centrepiece that brings London together. But it’s also a huge puzzle to solve. There are train stations and bus stops everywhere in the city that will help you get around. As an international student, it can be overwhelming to figure out how it all works. Here’s everything you need to know to help you travel safely.

No buses or trains in London will accept change, so you won’t be able to pay with anything other than an Oyster Card, contactless bank card or travel card. But with just a single tap on the yellow card reader at the barriers, you are in. 

To help you know where to go, you can download a tube app, the TfL GO app or one of the many live bus apps. These apps are usually free and will help you figure out how to easily get from A to B, and how long it will take you. The trains of London are often subject to upgrades, so it is always a good idea to check for any delays or cancellations before you travel. If the TfL app says there is a good service on your line, you are good to go.

Even though you have a night tube and night buses, some stations and bus routes shut down in London just after midnight. If you go out in the evening, make sure you plan a safe journey home. If you haven’t been drinking alcohol, you can access the network of bike hire stations 24/7. Black cabs are scattered around the city, but they can be expensive. Uber is available throughout London for a cheaper ride.

If you ever find yourself lost in a train station, the TfL staff can usually be found on every platform and are there to help. They can assist with planning your journeys if you need it, especially if there is an unexpected closure on your usual line.

Not all of London’s trains have air conditioning, so routes like the Central line can get very warm in the summer and on busy days. TfL always recommends bringing a bottle of water with you when travelling in warm weather. The trains also make an unearthly screech as they travel through the underground tunnels, which can be very loud and a huge shock if you’re not used to it!

Plan for Unpredictable Weather

You may already be aware that London’s weather has a mind of its own! If you want to survive London as an international student, you will need to pack a range of clothes – especially warm ones. The winters are cold and sometimes the summers are too, so it’s best to pack lots of jeans, trousers, jumpers and coats. Another thing you will need to survive the London weather is an umbrella or a waterproof coat with a hood. It can rain a lot here. Even in summer!

You will need Sun Cream

Despite the frequent rain and grey skies, the weather in London can be gorgeous sometimes. In the warmer months (around Jun-Sep), you can expect weather warm enough for those t-shirts, shorts, dresses etc. However, you will need sun cream when the sun is shining. Even though you might not expect to be burned by the sun in London, you definitely can be!

Learn the local lingo

To survive in London as an international student, you will need to learn the local lingo. By studying here, you can develop fluency in English and enjoy learning new words. But the local slang can be hard to decipher at first. The best way to get to grips with the language is by talking, listening and learning. London is generally an inclusive and welcoming place, and people are usually more than happy to explain what they mean if you don’t understand. For a helping hand before you move, the British Council has a series of free podcasts to help your social vocabulary.

  • The ‘loo’: Is a toilet or bathroom
  • ‘Jump on the tube’: Means to get on the underground train
  • ‘Booze’: Means alcohol
  • ‘Hammered’, ‘smashed’ or ‘slashed’: Means very drunk
  • ‘Ghost’: Means to ignore someone

Etiquettes Might be Different Here

The etiquettes in London may be notably different to what you are used to. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you ”’s are customary in almost every sentence. Tipping your waiters in restaurants is at your discretion, not a compulsory act. You may also find that people’s approaches to relationships are different here. The Great British Mag has developed a set of etiquette tips in the UK that may be helpful to browse before you move. Regardless, interacting with local people when you arrive will be the best way to observe and understand the local etiquettes.

Remember to Stay Healthy and Look After Yourself

London is a vast city with so much to do. Studying while adjusting to a new city can be challenging. As exciting as everything is, it’s important to stay healthy and look after yourself. If your studies are causing you stress, try and find the time to take a break and unwind in one of London’s green spaces or over a drink with a friend. At the same time, make sure you aren’t partying too hard too often. It’s important to get enough sleep and monitor your alcohol intake. In case you need it, you should register with a General Practitioner (GP) before you arrive and ensure that you have the right health insurance.

At UWS, you can access a wealth of wellbeing support and our International Student Advisors are here to help. Similarly, having friends that you can rely on is fundamental for better mental health. If you are finding it hard to make friends in the city, check out our tips on how to reach out.

Enjoy your new city!

Although you might think it’s impossible to survive London when you first move, it is possible to love it as an international student! There is a reason that more than a quarter of students in the city are international and keep coming back every year. Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get out there and make the most of your studying days in London!



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