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studying abroad in London

I am going to be studying abroad in London this semester. I leave in a week and will be staying until Christmas. I'm really excited, but also extremely nervous, because I have never traveled out of the country, and I'm about to take off and spend three months alone in Europe. Mostly I'm worried about money (I am a broke college student!). I will have about $3500 to spend. Any advice would be great...places to visit, how to save money, etc. Thanks so much!

Posted by
10344 posts

London is one of the most expensive cities in Europe and since you'll be there 3 months, buying a guidebook that gives you cost cutting tips will save you way more than the cost of the book. Hopefully as a student your accommodations are already taken care of, since London has some of the most expensive accommodations costs in Europe. Restaurant food is also expensive there, ideally as a student you would be eating in a cafeteria but if that's not the deal, then having a kitchen to prepare your own food would be a big plus.Some good news: almost all the top, world-class museums are free.

Posted by
89 posts

I just returned from spending five weeks (half quarter) and a lot of money studying in London. One of my biggest expeditures was food. If you really want to save, buy groceries and make your own meals rather than eating out. Cheap pre-made (but still decent) food was available at Marks and Spencer and Pret A Manger. Also, if you'll be staying somewhere outside central London you should shop there, most things will be considerably less expensive. A bottle of water that cost me 50 pence where I was living could cost 1.50 or more in central areas.

Like Kent said, most of the museums are free and quite excellent. I really enjoyed the British Library, Tate Modern, and the Museum of Natural History. (lots of info on the different museums in the Rick Steves London book).

Also, most things in central London aren't that far apart, so if transport isn't included in your study program walking instead of using the tube or bus will save a lot of money. Just make sure you have a decent map, good shoes for walking, and an umbrella (or whatever you prefer to keep the rain off).

If you're easily tempted by shopping stay away from the Oxford Circus area!

Posted by
390 posts

I spent 6 months at Kingston University - near Hampton Court Palace. It was the best 6 months of my life! A few tips for you -

"Let's Go" will be your bible. Tons of great food picks and info about clubs, happy hours, etc. Rick offers good advice but broke college student-friendly he is not.

For travel in the U.K. - National Express and Megabus are your best friends. Fares starting at £1. Also, try www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com for cheap train fares - if you book far in advance. You can even take Nat'l Express coaches to Paris and Amsterdam for about £30 return.

London nightlife is great but cover charges and drinks at the popular clubs are VERY expensive. Wetherspoons is a chain that has great drink specials and cheap meals. We spent many many Saturday nights there. Also look for student specials. A lot of clubs have cheaper entry before 10 P.M., drink specials, etc.

Shopping - H&M (everywhere), Primark (fabulous!)- huge store on Oxford St. next to Marble Arch, and street markets. I like Petticoat Lane for cheap clothes.

You should be able to use the internet for free on campus. Shop at Tesco or Sainsbury's for groceries. I was able to make it on about £20/week for food. (This included one meal out a week.) I ate a lot of sandwiches, cereal, pasta, and soup. For a quick bite between classes, grab a cornish pasty for about £3.

I'd recommend getting a cell phone there - pay as you go. You'll need one. Check out O2 or TMobile. Often you can get a phone for about £10 when you buy minutes. You can get cheap calling cards at the cornershops for calling home. Walk a lot and use the bus.

Regarding work - none of us were allowed to work in the U.K. We had to show upon arrival that we had enough funds available that we would not need to seek work. Also, the uni. never provided us any information regarding work opportunities. So make sure you have enough money and a credit card for emergencies :)

Posted by
14977 posts

Amanda...no need to worry. If there's one thing students know is how to find things cheap--food, clothes, entertainment, ans so on. You won't be alone. You'll meet fellow students--some of whom will be locals and already know the "lay of the land." You'll quickly learn it as well.

London is a great place to be introduced to foreign culture. A lot will be familiar to you and basically, they speak the same language as us.

Within no time, you'll feel like a local and locals always do better than tourists when it comes to saving money.

Posted by
12040 posts

I'm going to go against Kent's opinion here, and state that Rick's books are not the best for students on a shoe-string budget. He does have some cost-saving tips, but his books are written more for a casual traveler with a steady income, not a student trying to scrounge. A better source for your demographic would be the "Let's Go" series.

Once upon a time when I was a college student in London, I stumbled upon this cheap source of breakfast, that really pays off over a long time period- a baguette and jam. Not the hearty breakfast I was used to, but I found it was more than adequate to keep me going. Also, if you're a coffee drinker, see if you can find a cheap second-hand percolator. You'll save hundreds of dollars over the long haul if you brew your own rather than buying it.

Posted by
3580 posts

In England hot water is available in most lodgings, even dorms. It's made in an electric pot. You can use the hot water for dehydrated soups, tea, coffee, cocoa and whatever else. You may want to take your own supply of tea bags if you have a favorite. You may have access to a refrigerator. Hit the grocery stores, and keep up your nutrition by eating some fresh fruit every day. I like to have granola or meusli with milk or yogurt. Nuts are good to carry around. Dried fruit is usually a reasonable value. For eating out, Cornish pasties, Indian soups, sometimes Chinese buffets, are often inexpensive and delicious. Be creative, pay attention to good nutrition, and learn from other students about ways to save money on food.

Posted by
194 posts

Hi Amanda,

Six years ago (when $1 got you 1.6 pounds) I spent the fall semester of my junior year of college in London--it was one of the best times in my life! No matter how much money you're going to spend, you'll have a blast and make some lasting memories.

My lodging and a three-month Tube/bus pass was part of the entire study aboard package, which really helped. We also had International Student ID cards, which helped saved money throughout London and throughout the countries I visited during my time abroad.

Eat at home as much as you can--cereal for breakfast, pack sandwiches to take to uni for lunch, pasta for dinner. Like the other said, many London museums are free, which is great. Also, just wandering around London's different neighborhoods, exploring and people watching is a lot of fun and free! Explore Camden, Covent Garden, Kensington, Greenwich, etc.

You'll find out ways to save once you get there. And you'll be around others who need to save money, too, so that makes it easier. Spend money on things you definitely want: travel, plays (visit TKDS in Leister Square or the discount ticket booth in the Lesiter Square (I think that's the one) Underground stattion, and figure out where you can save.

Have fun! It's such an exciting experience! What university will you be at? I studied at London Met (it was University of North London when I was there).

Posted by
658 posts

Congratulations ! I hope you have a wonderful time studying in England. American exchange students have always been the life blood of English universities.

Many of us who are English and attended university encountered exchange students or those on Rhodes Scholarships who studied full time in Britain. In many cases life long friendships were forged.

I am now going to be brutally frank with you, unless you have well healed parents who can inject a little extra cash, it is far from easy making ends meet. It can be done but it’s tough.

In my personal experience many US students get a little cash in hand work from time to time – often behind the bar of the Students Union ( this is the one job you can do for cash and not break your visa work restrictions – the college grounds that hold the SU are deemed to be a place of study, not a place of paid employment ).

Of course I also know many high profile American lawyers, government legislators and politicians who did a little cash in hand work in order to make ends meet when they were at university in England. It’s not legal, but it’s not the worst crime that’s going to be committed on the streets of London, not by a long chalk.

Make friends with the British students. In my experience they’ll help – a lot.

Posted by
10344 posts

Tom makes a good point about the Let's Go books.

Posted by
495 posts

I'm pretty sure Al's wrong about working as a student in the UK. I'm no expert (and you should of course always check with official sources about this sort of thing) but this is my understanding:

A student visa allows part time work during term time and full time during holidays.
The shorter term "student visit" visa allows no work at all.
Student Unions and university grounds have no special status re. work visas. You are either legal to work in the UK or not.

Posted by
605 posts

I spent a semester in London (Kings College) 9 years ago and the biggest challenge was the food budget. Food is really, really expensive. At first, I thought I had the system beat by cooking all of my meals. Turns out, cooking for 1 is actually quite challenging and groceries weren't exactly free. For example, when I was there, 1 chicken breast went for about 3 pounds. I tried buying in more bulk, but that meant more of the same meal over and over again (I ate pot roast every night for 7 straight days once). In the end, I settled on making my own breakfast and lunch and going out for the nightly special at the Indian restaurant below my flat for 6 lbs.

Don't worry about 'sights' per say. You'll eventually see them all during your time there. My favorite activities were going to Camden Market and Speakers Corner and just wandering around.

I would encourage you to take advantage of long weekends and travel to places that you think you might never go back to. For example, given the choice between say Stockholm and Florence, go to Stockholm. You'll probably have the opportunity to spend a week or more in Italy at some point, but you're probably not going to fly all the way from the States to spend a week in Sweden (for example). While I was there I went to Scotland, Stockholm, and Lisbon. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by
317 posts

Amanda - congrats! London, as you might have guessed from the feedback here, is a fabulous town. While it is one of the most expensive cities in the world, lots of folks study there, and as has already been pointed out, students are great at pinching pennies. You are going to have a blast!

Several folks have mentioned Let's Go books, and I would say they are right on. Lots of info on ways to stay, eat, and have fun on the cheap. Rick's books are great, but not the best for folks on a uni budget.

London is an easy town to get around in, and the cheapest ways are usually bus and walking. Walking is easy because most things in town are fairly close. Walking also gives you the chance to really see the city. The Tube goes everywhere, but can be expensive.

As to eating, eating out is expensive. Good deals can be had by going into grocery stores and getting some of their pre-prepared foods. Small cafes will also have things like this.

You are in luck when it comes to places to visit -- most major museums are free. For the ones that arent, there is usually a student rate you can get by showing your student ID.

Other than that, I would say relax and enjoy.