Moving to London as an international student

Switching China for Covent Garden: how to settle in London as an international student!

Starting out on an adventure in London as an international student?

You’ve chosen wisely – London is a thrilling, vibrant, bustling and diverse city full of attractions for you to savour. Moving to London can be a fascinating experience for anyone lucky enough to get the opportunity, and it’s a particularly great place to be when you’re a student.

That said, however, London is a huge place and it’s not always easy to get settled in – particularly if you’re coming from overseas. There’s a lot to get familiar with, and some people find this somewhat overwhelming, especially when moving to London alone.

To help you get adjusted to London life, we’ve put together a handy guide on what you need to know when moving to London as an international student.

From accommodation and public transport to culture and socialising, there’s a lot to get your head around before you start studying in the British capital.

Read on to get our advice for moving to London – and don’t forget to check out our university guides and university area guides to find out more about particular universities and locations.


Finding the right accommodation

Perhaps the first really important question you’ll need to consider once you’ve secured a uni place in London is where you’re going to live. There’s a lot to think about when you’re trying to work out exactly where you want to base yourself.

Key points to consider before you move include:

  • Location. Is your accommodation within reasonably easy reach of your university? London enjoys excellent and extensive public transport links which should allow you to get around the city without difficulty, but don’t give yourself too far to travel if you can avoid it.

  • Culture and social opportunities in the local area. Again, London is a very vibrant city, with plenty to see and do more or less wherever you are. But the cultural mix in different areas varies quite considerably. Think about which is best for you and your personal interests.

  • Which type of accommodation is right for you? Are you looking to live with other students in a communal arrangement, or do you want something more private? Take the time to think about what would work best for you, and what kind of arrangement would provide you with the kind of base that gives you the freedom to explore the city and enjoy your leisure time, but which also provides the privacy and seclusion you need to study.

It's also worth remembering, following on from that last point, that student accommodation has come a long way from the basic, bare-bones digs of old. In recent years, there’s been a massive expansion of high-end student accommodation offering a boutique living experience – so if this is the kind of thing that appeals to you, you’re sure to find the perfect pad in London.

CBRE Residential has a huge range of beautifully furnished and appointed student rentals in London, located in some of the capital’s most vibrant districts and with a whole host of outstanding facilities including complementary gyms.


Public transport in London: what you need to know

London’s public transport network is far and away the best in the UK, and compared to other British cities it’s much easier to get around to different parts of the city.

Whether you’re commuting to university or just going on an expedition around London’s wealth of tourist attractions, its public transport system will help you get to wherever you’re going.

First and foremost, you should familiarise yourself with the Underground network (or the Tube, as it’s affectionately known). Some people find the Tube a little disorientating at first, but once you’re accustomed to it, it’ll be an absolute lifesaver. The Tube also connects to London’s major mainline railway hubs – Euston, King’s Cross St Pancras, Victoria, Paddington, Charing Cross, Liverpool Street, London Bridge and Waterloo – from where you can reach destinations across the UK and in continental Europe via the Eurostar from St Pancras.

The Tube also takes you to London’s largest airport – Heathrow – while London City Airport can be reached via the Docklands Light Railway. Stansted Airport is situated just over 40 miles outside London in Essex, but Stansted Express rail services to the airport run every 15 minutes through the day from Liverpool Street station in central London. London Gatwick Airport is also extremely easy to get to thanks to the regular Gatwick Express service.

A huge network of bus services also criss-crosses London, taking you to destinations across the capital. London buses are all cashless, so it’s a good idea to pick up an Oyster card for use on public transport – you can use these cards to pay for bus, Tube, Overground, Crossrail/Elizabeth line, Docklands Light Railway, Tramlink, Emirates Air Line and some London River Services journeys as well as National Rail services in certain areas.


Socialising in London: getting to know people

One difficulty that a lot of people experience when moving to London alone is meeting new people and making new friends.

Perhaps the most important thing that you should always bear in mind is that you’re far from alone – there are huge numbers of international students in London, all trying to make their own way, all adjusting to a new city and trying to find like-minded people.

There should be plenty of social activities and clubs to join on campus, if you want to find people in a similar situation and with similar interests to yours. Be sure to check what’s going on at your university or college; a lot of these activities revolve around sport, so if you’re interested in playing there should be various sports teams and clubs that you can get involved with. Even if you aren’t into sports, there’ll be lots of other groups to join – from gig goers to film buffs. Make yourself visible and put yourself out there!

Off-campus, there’s a plethora of cultural activities to participate in. London is filled to the brim with cultural hotspots to explore. Whether you’re sampling craft beer or taking in a gig round Shoreditch and Hoxton, or immersing yourself in cutting-edge theatre and arthouse cinema at Southbank, you’ll find no shortage of fun and stimulating things to occupy your time – and hopefully meet some interesting new people who share similar tastes to yours.


More tips when moving to London as an international student

Here are a few more tips and suggestions for you to consider before you make the move to London as an international student:

  • Do you need a visa? Where necessary, you need to ensure that you have a valid visa allowing you to live and study in the UK. You can check whether this applies to you by visiting the UK government’s official website here.
  • Be prepared to be flexible. You might be going into this with a clear idea of what you want from your time in London, where you want to live, and what you want to do. But be careful not to close yourself off to new ideas and new experiences – London is packed full of them, and you’ll risk missing out if you stick to a rigid routine.
  • Check out social media groups to find other international students in London. There are lots of different groups on Facebook bringing together international students from all over the world, so take a look at these and see what’s out there.
  • Try to familiarise yourself with the new host culture before you travel. This is rather easier said than done of course: the finer points of London slang can baffle just about anyone, wherever they’re from. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to do some research about the cultural mores prevailing in London – this should stand you in good stead for when you move there.

Hopefully this guide has provided you with some useful pointers and ideas for when you make the big move to London. Above all, remember that your time in the city is what you make of it – if you’re keen to explore everything it has to offer (and there’s lots of it!) then don’t be afraid to get out there. Good luck, and happy studying!