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Travelling to the UK

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Planning your travel to the UK is exciting, but there is a lot to think about!

The UK Council for International Student Affairs provides excellent advice to help you prepare for your trip – we recommend that you visit their website. Here are some additional tips:

  • Documents you need to bring include:

   •  your passport, with a valid visa if you need one (see Visas);
   •  travel itinerary and tickets;
   •  a letter of acceptance from your school, college or university;
   •  recent bank statements (and proof of your scholarship, if you have one, or sponsor's letter), as
      you may be asked for evidence that you can cover your tuition and accommodation fees;
   •  originals (or certified true copies) of any degree certificates or technical qualifications;
   •  if you're bringing any prescribed medication with you, bring a letter from your doctor explaining
      what it is for.

For more advice about what to pack, see 20 things you need as a student, and What to wear as a UK student.

  • When you're travelling, bring the address of your new school, college or university, plus the telephone number and ideally the name of a member of staff. This way you can reach help quickly if you need it.

  • You are likely to need health and travel insurance. There are many companies specialising in international student insurance. Make sure you are covered if you need to be. Ask your school, college or university for advice – they may offer a special insurance policy for their students. For information about vaccinations and other health-related considerations, see our Health article.

  • Check with your airline what you can bring with you. Most airlines charge for excess baggage.

  • Leave plenty of time to check in and pass through security control before boarding connecting flights – there can be long queues.

  • If you need help once you arrive in the UK, ask at an official tourist information office or information desk. There should be one in every airport.

  • Make sure you bring warm clothes with you. It might be cold on the trip... or when you arrive! If it's winter, bring a thick jumper (sweater) and warm coat too.

  • Security at international airports is strict. Find out more about customs restrictions on the gov.uk website, and read the ten tips below to be prepared for border control.

  • For your journey, you may need money for public transport, food and customs charges. Bring around £200 in travellers’ cheques for this. International airports in the UK also have money exchange services, and ATMs to withdraw cash in British Pounds Sterling with a compatible debit or credit card.

It can take a few weeks to open a bank account in the UK – read our guide to Banking for advice. If you plan to use your credit or debit card from your home bank during this period, contact your bank first to ensure there are no restrictions.

Arriving at the airport

When you arrive at the airport, follow the signs for ‘Arrivals’ unless you are transferring to another plane at the same airport. If you are transferring to another flight, follow the ‘Flight connections’ signs.

‘Arrivals’ will take you to passport control. Here, electronic screens will show you where to go – there are usually separate queues for passengers who have passports from the UK, EEA (European Economic Area) or Switzerland, and for all other passport holders. Once you have completed the immigration process (see the UKCISA website for more details about immigration and customs), you'll proceed to the baggage reclaim area to collect your luggage. Look at the screens above the baggage carousels to find your flight number.

Finally, you'll pass through Customs Control. At UK airports there are normally three exits through Customs – a green channel if you are travelling from outside the EEA and have nothing to declare; a red channel if you are travelling from outside the EEA and have goods to declare; and a blue channel if you've arrived from another airport within the EEA. Follow the links below to check what items should be declared.

Border Force (part of the UK government’s Home Office) is responsible for immigration and customs checks at airports. These are Border Force's top tips for a smooth journey:

  1. Have your passport ready.
  2. Ensure you complete a landing card if you’re a non-EEA (European Economic Area) national. Landing cards are sometimes given out on the plane, or you can find them in the immigration hall.
  3. Bring details of your course of study. If you have a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number, bring proof of this too.
  4. Keep any medical documentation, recent bank statements and details of where you are staying in your hand luggage. You may be asked to show this information.
  5. Do not bring any meat or dairy products from outside the European Union. There are also restrictions on other food products such as fish, eggs and honey, as well as some fruit, vegetables and plants (e.g. bulbs, seeds, cut flowers and tree bark). Find out more
  6. There are restrictions on the amount of tobacco, alcohol and gifts you can bring to the UK. Find out more
  7. Be aware of your duty free limit. If you exceed your allowance, you will have to declare it and pay duty at customs (go through the ‘red channel’), otherwise all of your items may be taken away from you. 
  8. Never bring in counterfeit goods, illegal drugs, weapons or obscene material. Some items are restricted and will require a licence or permit. Find out more
  9. You must declare any sums of cash of €10,000 or more (or the equivalent in another currency), if you are travelling from a country outside the European Union.
  10. Never give false or misleading information (including forged or counterfeit documents).

Students from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA

If you're coming to the UK from any of these five countries on a Tier 4 visa or a Standard Visitor Visa (previously an Academic Visitor Visa), you can sign up for the official Registered Traveller service. This will give you faster entry through the UK border. It allows you to use biometric ePassport gates (a quick computerised passport check) and the UK/EU entry lanes, and means you don't need to fill out a landing card, have a credibility interview or have your fingerprints taken.

The service is aimed at travellers over the age of 18 and there is a fee for applying. Please visit the Registered Traveller page of the Home Office website for more details.

Transport from the airport

With more than 40 airports plus an extensive network of rail, ferry and coach links, the UK has an excellent transport system.

Your school, college or university may arrange to pick you up from the airport when you arrive. If not, aim to arrive during the day, when public transport is more frequent. For trains and buses from the airport, you can save time and money by booking tickets in advance.

You can find out more about transport options when you arrive from the airport's website. For example:

   •  Heathrow Airport
   •  Gatwick Airport
   •  Stansted Airport
   •  London Luton Airport
   •  Manchester Airport
   •  Birmingham Airport
   •  Edinburgh Airport
   •  Glasgow Airport.

See Travel in the UK for more information.

Read more

For more advice before you travel, take a look at the British Council's First steps guide. This has lots of information about what to expect when you arrive in the UK, plus checklists to help you keep track of all the practical tasks you'll need to think about.

Download the guide here