As an international student, you’re probably feeling the pressure. Managing your money at university is a whole new challenge – and you’ll be doing it in a country and currency you’re not familiar with!
Don’t panic: it can be done. These tips will help you feel at home faster by explaining how things work in the UK, and what to look out for.
1. Get to grips with local cash
The currency in the UK is Pound Sterling (£), and there are 100 pennies in one pound.
The most common types of cash you’ll encounter are paper notes (£20, £10 and £5) and coins (£2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p). Coins are useful for laundromats, public toilets and vending machines, so hang on to them!
Cash is king in much of the UK, but card payments – especially ‘contactless’ – are increasingly popular. Bigger towns and cities offer more ways to pay for everyday things, including by text message (SMS) and Apple or Android pay.
2. Open a UK bank account
Student bank accounts are designed for university life so it’s worth looking at them first.
Some banks have a dedicated international student account, while others offer a limited version of the account that UK students get. None of these accounts include an overdraft, which is a way to temporarily borrow money for free or at low cost.
If a student account doesn’t work for you, compare current accounts or basic bank accounts next.
Account features to compare:
In-credit interest to earn money on your savings or regular income
Account fees, including monthly fees, and charges for accidentally overspending
Cash card to withdraw money and/or debit card to make payments (check any charges, restrictions or limits)
Direct debits or standing orders, to pay utility bills or tuition fees automatically
Online or app banking – especially useful for keeping an eye on your spending!
Whichever kind of account you pick, you’ll need paperwork to apply. This is likely to include ID and address documents plus your course confirmation letter, but check carefully for yourself in advance.
3. Stick to a budget
Budgeting boils down to never spending more money than you have available each month. You should already know this figure from your visa or university applications: it’s what you have in savings or from regular income (job or student funding).
Make a list of all your monthly spending. Include everything: tuition fees, rent, clothing, coffee, groceries, transport and anything else you need to survive at university. The total should always be less than your monthly allowance, so track it regularly – use a budgeting app or a notebook and log all your spending.
Keep cash aside to pay for essential or fixed costs first (tuition fees or rent, for example).
For all other spending, your challenge is find ways to pay as little as possible: the tips below will help!
4. Use your student discount
The simplest way to get money off is to ask “can I have a student discount?” – get into the habit of asking whenever you pay for service, bills, entry tickets and anything else!
The free student ID or library card your university will issue you is all you need to get a discount in local shops and restaurants. You may also want to consider a TOTUM or ISIC card. You have to pay an annual fee for these, but they give a wider range of discounts, including online.
Also worth a look:
16-25 railcard (any age for full-time students)
Young Person’s Coach Card (any age for full-time students)
Student bus or train pass: pay in advance to secure discounted fares – check with your local operator
As a student, you’ll have tons of opportunities to find freebies: make the most of them! Start with your university’s freshers’ fair at the beginning of the academic year, when vouchers, free stationery, snacks and other goodies are all up for grabs.
5. Have a back-up plan
If you’re worried about money, it’s important to get help asap – don’t wait until things get serious and start to disrupt your health or your studies:
Talk to the welfare team at your university or Students’ Union. They can explain your rights, how things work, and what to do next.
Avoid taking further loans to cover debts, especially from payday lenders (small, quick loans at very high risk and interest rates). If you’re struggling with debt, get advice from your university or a charity such as StepChange first.
The best thing about studying abroad is that everything’s new. Don’t be afraid to try things out, find your own preferences, and ask for help if you need it. You don’t have to get everything right the first time – if you did, studying abroad wouldn’t be an adventure. Enjoy the ride!
Guest blog by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student – the UK’s leading student money advice site.