Hundreds of thousands of international students pour into the UK every year to steep themselves in our history, culture and fancy-dress parties.
At the last count, around half-a-million foreign students enrolled in a university course here—over 17% of Britain’s entire student population (UKCISA).
Studying in Britain is usually a wonderful experience, but even the savviest visitors must navigate a host of fees, forms and financial snags starting well before they arrive on campus.
Here are the 5 most egregious financial fails to avoid while studying in the UK:
1. Don’t live like a tourist
Start acting like a local quickly to protect your budget. Use this helpful international student calculator to get a better sense of what to expect in terms of cost of living and accommodations.
As for housing: consider scouting AirBnB’s listings or registering for Flat-Club, a London startup that helps students and alumni secure short-term rentals from contacts within their trusted university and work networks. For mid to longer term lets - check out Spotahome who operate in London and 11 other European cities.
2. Don’t pay too much in tuition fees
Public universities charge a lower “home” fee for UK natives & European nationals and a higher “overseas fee” for other students. A crucial caveat for European students: to be eligible for UK home fees, you must have lived in your home country for 3 full years prior to your enrollment in the UK.
Verify your proper fee status with your target university when applying, as “overseas fees” can run as high as £18,000 per year. Be smart about transferring money for fee payments as well--on a £10,000 tuition payment, banks often charge as high as £500 in processing fees. With TransferWise, it’s only £50.
International graduate students are usually hit worst by the banks’ outrageous fees and markups. Students enrolled in London School of Business’ MBA program may pay nearly £2,000 pounds in transaction fees alone on their £57,500 in fee payments. Transfer carefully.
3. Don’t fail to open a British bank account
Madeleine Moberg, 24, a Swedish student who recently studied in London, bailed on opening an account at Barclays because she couldn’t get her hands on all of the documents that they required.
"I wish I’d opened a UK account,” she said, “it would have saved me nearly £300 in transaction fees on my Swedish VISA. It also would have helped me qualify** **for savings on accommodation, gym memberships and transportation passes."
Also, don’t be fooled if your home bank tells you that there’s “no additional charge” when using your card abroad. These “traveller-friendly” banks may not charge an obvious fee on every transaction, but their unfortunate customers are getting robbed with exchange rates that are marked up substantially.
4. Don’t skip out on part-time work
Studying can certainly seem like a full-time gig, but many international students scrape together extra spending money by working part-time. Depending upon their course, international students can work up to 10 or 20 hours per week while in Britain.
Tread carefully if you’re offered “under the table” compensation--it may be tempting to clock more than your allotted hours, but you could risk losing your visa.
5. Don’t miss out on student discounts
Many cultural attractions, sports centers and even clothing stores offer significant discounts for students, even when they’re not posted or advertised.
Danae Troukoudes, a Cypriot student who recently completed a medical degree at Cambridge, advised international students to consider loyalty programs that locals can’t live without.
"Always ask for loyalty cards at places like Tesco," said Danae. "You can get serious savings if you use them consistently during your time in the UK."
A number of online deal aggregators have sprung up for UK students, such as StudentBeans, a lifestyle site that features exclusive deals, and StudentRecommended. Be sure to check their offers before heading out on the town.
By Taavet Hinrikus, TransferWise co-founder
For more information on fee status, including an annual survey of international students on how much they paid during their UK studies. Image Courtesy of EUR (eurweb.com).