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Settling-in (Mobile phones, Accommodation and Money)

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Getting a SIM card

Blog first published on 15 Aug, 2020

Updated on 29 Dec, 2023

For the first few months, we recommend getting a pay as you go (PAYG) SIM card such as Giffgaff or Three.

The PAYG means you can top up your phone with credit, paying what you need. You can order these SIM cards online and mail it to your accommodation before coming to the UK, so you can navigate around the UK upon arrival. Most student accommodation welcome packs provide you with a SIM card upon moving in, so you may want to email the student accommodation team to enquire if they provide SIM card as part of their move-in packs. 

After a few weeks in the UK, you may consider getting a post-paid line. Some phone providers offer attractive discounts for students and NHS staff. You can find out more about this once you have enrolled as a student/ have an NHS staff badge and proof of address. Please check whether additional costs applied when you travel around the EU.   

Lebara and Lycamobile offer good PAYG deals that includes affordable international calling (1-2 pence / minute).

Finding an Accommodation

Whether you are living in one of university accommodations for the first year or renting from the open market, you are likely to be renting a property at some point. Good and affordable place get reserved in days! For this segment, we will be focusing on private accommodations as most university accommodation sites will provide you all the information you need.


In London, most international trainees chose to stay in areas such as Russel Square, Kings Cross, Angel, Islington, Holloway, Marylebone, Vauxhall, Oval, Kentish Town, Finchley or Liverpool Street. These areas well connected with public transport so we can travel to placement and university. Some trainees choose to stay in Zone 3 as rent will be cheaper and they have a newer, bigger flat.  

Spare Room and UCL Find Your Flatmates (post-grad) are useful to find a room in existing private house-shares or to look for housemates who have not found a house yet.

For anywhere else in the UK, you can look for a home on Rightmove and Zoopla.  If you manage to find a group of 3-4 people, it might get more options and rent can be cheaper when split between individuals.

Do note that agents advertise some of these posts. If you are renting a room, we recommend joining an existing flat share. Renting from an agent tends to be overpriced, and it offers you far less control over rent (e.g., you may not see the bills you paid for). The process of negotiating rent, deposit, and contract with an agent can a hassle.


It is essential to have a viewing and meet your flatmates either virtually or in-person before confirming a place as photos of the place can be deceiving. You may also request for a online viewing using video call from the agent if you are overseas/not available to view in person. Do be mindful of scams. For instance, you do not need to pay for viewing. We encourage you to read up on tips to find private accommodation posted by UCL Accommodation team.

What do I need to keep in mind while renting a flat?

Credit and reference check.

You may need to pay 3-6 months’ rent in advance if you do not have a line of credit (e.g., credit cards, loans, etc.) in the U.K. Alternatively, landlords may need you to find a guarantor (someone who lives and earns 2.5x more than your rent in the UK). You need the guarantor to sign the lease with you. Flats that advertise as student-friendly may be more flexible with international students’ needs. Also, ask for a survey report with photographs of the place before moving in.  

Safety of the Neighbourhood

This is a common query from trainees who have not been to the UK before. You can look up crime rates (here) to research about a neighbourhood. For those who will be living in London, Central London is generally student-friendly; be aware of pickpockets and phone snatchers (usually on pedal bikes) when you are walking around at night. 

Things to keep in mind

1. Check whether the deposit is in one of

the deposit protection schemes. This scheme makes sure that you get compensated if an agent goes out of business. 

2. If an appliance breaks (e.g., washing machine), who is responsible for sorting this?

3. Ask other trainees questions about areas and places where you want to stay or any other questions about rent, what you to look out for etc. Most trainees in the programs are renting a home too.

4. As a student, you do not need to pay Council Tax. You can apply for council tax exemption through your council by submitting a proof of student status and a proof of living address.

Where can I get advice?

There should be an accommodation service within your university, which provides advice and assistance on all aspect of renting accommodation in the private sector. The service should be free for all students, which includes comprehensive tips on things to look out for when viewing a flat, renting process, and your rights as a student.

Opening a Bank Account

Opening a bank account in the UK can be a lengthy process. A few international trainees ended up waiting 2-3 weeks for the earliest appointments for banks near campus! 

You can open an international student account with Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest or Santander, among others. The types of accounts offered are similar (i.e. provide low/no interest in savings account), though some banks offer perks; like cashback for shopping online/groceries; when you open an account with them. Please read the criteria for the accounts carefully before applying as the perks tend to change annually.  

To set up a bank account

Book an appointment with the nearest bank branch IMMEDIATELY after you have enrolled with the university. You can do so via walk-ins. You may need to ask for an earlier appointment date at different bank branches, so you get the proof of address ASAP. Without proof of address, you will not be able to apply for the National Insurance number.

Alternative banks

Monzo and Revolut are mobile-only banking services. The process of opening an account is more straightforward and faster than other banks. These mobile-only banking services help track your monthly spending too. 

Monzo has better exchange rates and allows free withdrawals within UK. Revolut is an alternative to Monzo and allows users to transfer money abroad to 29 countries with the interbank exchange rate. Do note that a 0.5% fee is charged for any transfer above £5,000 each month.

All you need is to follow the instructions on the app after you download it on either iOS or Android. You also need to provide a UK address so you can receive your debit card.

Transferwise (

This is great for changing different currencies into GBP for your UK bank account as it offers competitive rates. You can also apply for a TransferWise debit card that allows you to store more than 20 currencies for if you are travelling abroad. All you need is proof of a UK address (e.g. a bank statement, utility bill). Application is online and it is available as an app. A great money saver and privilege for those who are living in the UK.

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