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Saving money when studying abroad in the UK

So you have decided you want to study abroad in the UK? You will probably worry about how much it is going to cost you. In this article I will point out some of the ways to save money and to avoid making expensive mistakes.


Course fees will probably be one of your largest costs, so carefully consider the options before you choose your school. It is a good idea to contact the British Council in your country as early as possible: they may be able to help you to find a suitable course, give you ideas about how to prepare for going to the UK, and tell you about any scholarships which may be available. If you are planning to go to a private English language school, find out if it is accredited by the British Council: if it is, you know that the quality of the course and facilities will have been checked. Be careful about very cheap, non-accredited schools - there may be large classes, poor teachers or inadequate facilities. Occasionally such a school may suddenly close and students lose their money.

Visa scam
language school
is closed

Evening Standard
23 June 2003
There may be risks if you choose a cheap non-accredited private school (headline from a London newspaper)

If you use an agent to arrange your study abroad, remember that you will only be given a choice of one of the schools with which the company has an agreement. You may want to register with more than one and compare the advice which they give. You may be able to save money if you feel confident enough to find a school yourself and make your own arrangements, but if you do this you need to spend time to understand the immigration process (the rules change frequently), how to apply for a course, and how to find accommodation. Some private language schools will offer you a discount if you ask for one (when you apply directly), and "discount agents" can offer cheaper courses by returning part of the agents' commission to you (but they will only provide a very limited service).


Long-stay students can use the UK's
National Health Service for free
It is important to be properly insured when you travel abroad, in case you are ill or have some other serious trouble. Note that if you are studying in Britain for more than 6 months you should be able to use the public health service without charge. There are some special insurance policies for international students in the UK which take account of this and which may therefore be cheaper. Many international students coming to the UK pay more than they need to for insurance, because they buy general travel insurance policies which do not distinguish between the UK and other countries, and which do not take account of the different requirements of travellers and students.


Taking a bus or coach is usually the
cheapest way to travel in Britain

It can be expensive to fly from Asia to the UK, so try to travel outside the busiest holiday months and compare prices from several airlines. There may be special prices available to students or young people - so check with agents who specialise in youth travel.

When you travel within the UK is often much cheaper if you book in advance. Take advantage of student railcards or coachcards. If you are studying in London, ask your school about how to apply for a Student Photocard as soon as you arrive. Travelling by bus or coach is cheaper than using the trains. Organised coach tours can be the cheapest way of visiting different parts of the UK. If you use a travel agency for a holiday, make sure that it is a member of ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) - if it is, you should be able to get your money back if the company goes bankrupt after you have paid.


Don't bring too much baggage
when you come to the UK
Find out how much baggage you are allowed to take on the aeroplane when you fly to Britain. Weigh your things before you leave - excess baggage charges can be very expensive. Most students bring too much with them. Do not carry heavy or large things (for example, food or rice cookers). It is possible to get most things in the UK if you decide that you need them. If you send some of their clothes, make sure that you write "used clothes" on the customs declaration form: sometimes students are asked to pay import taxes when they receive their parcels. Before you return to your country, sell heavy or large things to other students who are just arriving - it will often be cheaper to do this and then to buy the goods again once you have returned to your country.


Consider all the costs and options
when choosing accommodation
Accommodation may be one of your biggest expenses while you are living in the UK. If you are studying at a college or university, you may be offered a room in its "halls of residence". This may be the cheapest and most convenient option: you should not have to pay the local tax known as "council tax", you may be offered free internet access, and your travelling costs will be much lower. If you are at a language school, there is usually a chance to pay to stay with a host family. Some students prefer to stay in a cheap hostel for the first couple of weeks in the UK and spend the time looking for a suitable room, perhaps sharing a room or flat with some friends.


Buying from local markets
can be cheaper
There are many ways of saving money on your shopping in the UK. Buy goods and services online using the internet. Go to markets for locally produced food. Use discount stores or charity shops. Consider shopping or cooking together with a friend. Share what you have or what you buy with other people. Take advantage of sales - the main ones in the UK are in January and July. Shops often offer discounts for students, so make sure you ask when you buy things. Many things you need can be bought second-hand (maybe you can get them from another student who is about to leave the UK) - portable televisions, desk lamps, kitchen equipment or CD players can all be obtained this way.


A free concert
in Regent's Park, London
You don't always need a lot of money to have fun. There are many free organised events which you can join. A lot of the main museums and art galleries in the UK are free. Cinemas sometimes offer student discounts or cheap tickets at off-peak times. If a theatre has unsold seats, it may offer last-minute tickets cheaply to students. University bars often offer cheap beer, and most pubs have "happy hours" when drinks are much cheaper. Take advantage of the parks - many put on free concerts during the summer. You can also enjoy the British countryside, which is very accessible to walkers and cyclists.


I hope that I have been able to give you some ideas about ways of saving money when studying abroad in the UK. Of course, I have not been able to include all of the details here - you can find this information in my website UK Student Life, which has been created to help international students who come to the UK.

Mark Chandler
UK Student Life:

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