Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Studying in London - 7 other things to look out for once you have arrived

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Education has always been a great British export. It is an industry that is projected to rake in £26bn by 2025 (source: BBC News) powered by a wide spectrum from students flocking over to the UK. Even though visa rules have somewhat tightened of late, British education institutions continue to attract the best and brightest around the world.

As of 2011, there are just over 102,000 international students in London pursuing higher education (source: UKCISA). Arriving in London is merely the first step. To reduce the hassle of your transition, here are 7 other things to look out for.

1. Finding a place to bunk

Finding a accomodation in London is always tough if you don't already have an existing network. Besides the 5 things to check when looking for accommodation in London , I've put something together, which includes what to look out for when house hunting. Download your London Accomodation Guide now!

2. Moving around in London

They aren't kidding when they say public transport in London is among the most expensive in the world. Unless you live within walking distance to your school, it's likely that you would need to travel daily either by the London Underground (Tube) or buses. If that's the case, it's very likely that you would be saving a bundle getting a travel card.

Being a full time student, you are eligible for a 18+ student travel card, which is around 30% cheaper than the adult equivalent. For more on whether you are eligible for one and how to go about applying one, check out Transport for London.

3. Calling home

Though you're away from home, there's no reason why you shouldn't be keeping in touch on a regular basis. I rely solely on Skype for this. It's free if the person you're calling is online and has a (free) Skype account. Throw in great sound quality and video features (the original FaceTime), you got yourself a winner.

If your folks back home prefer to take the call from a landline or mobile line, just load up some credits and they'd be able to receive calls from you as it's made locally. Check out the Skype charges involved and how much you can save.

It used to be that you need a computer and wifi connection for Skype. No longer. Skype installs as an app in iPhones and Android phones. Even if you don't have any internet connection (3G or wifi) you can call from a your mobile (via Skype to Go service - no extra charge) that is linked to your Skype without even having access to the Internet. Now, try beating that.

4. Setting up a bank account

Money isn't everything but having it sure makes life easier. Without a local bank account, you are reduced to stuffing notes in your pillowcase, a sure recipe for disaster.

Open one of those easy access student bank accounts within the first few days of your arrival. Providing bare minimum services, these accounts aren't exactly premier; credit cards are not issued, which might not be a bad thing after all - the temptation for credit card swiping is nipped at the bud. Other than requiring you to prove who you are and where you live, you'd need to prove your student status and some might require a deposit to open up the account. For more information, check out Opening and Running a UK bank account.

5. Registering for the NHS

You might be at the prime of your youth but never discount getting adequate healthcare as good quality private healthcare in the UK is exorbitant to say the least (at least £60 for a 15min session with a GP). Universal healthcare is available in the UK in the form of the National Health Service (NHS). All EU students as well as non-EU students on full time courses by recognized institutions lasting more than 6 months are eligible for the NHS.

Typically, the catchment of NHS clinics overlaps and if you are based in central London, chances are you'd be covered by more than one clinic. However, unless it's an emergency, you are to go to the NHS clinic that you are registered in for minor ailments. Selecting which clinic to register in is an art on its own; for more on this, check out 5 tips when relocating to London.

6. Where to eat (cheaply)

Before income from your part-time work comes rolling in, there're bound to be some lean days. Bread and instant noodles an only sustain you this far. If you're ever short of places to eat, download your London Restaurant Guide compiled by a UCL student for London Expat or LondonChow.com by yours truly. You can count on Timeout to publish a list of its own too, aptly named Cheap eats in London.

7. What to do with the rest of your time

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; it's time to loosen up a bit but the budget's tight. Fret not, when they say the best things in life are free, they're not kidding. My personal favourite is London Timeout. Timeout even compiled all the things to do in London under £10 in a neat bundle. Else, there's always the free things to do in London on a rainy day.

If you gunning for the theatre, Theatre Monkey is a good reference for the best seats in theatres. They too has got all that down to a good size book that you can carry about.

Why not be brave and learn something new in your spare time? Tasterlab offers free courses in the hope that you'd sign up for more if they interest you. Meanwhile, sign up for Groupon - it never hurts to get news on the latest deal in town.

These should start you off on a sound footing. If you have been there and done that, do drop a comment below if I miss out anything or if you have any tips to pass along.

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