Practical Advice for moving from US to UK for Uni

Hello all! First post here. My daughter has been accepted to 4 of her 5 UCAS choices. She’s still waiting to hear back from one, but the long and short is that she will be moving to London this September. I’m looking for words of wisdom/advice from people who have gone through this before. If this has been covered before and I’m missing the thread, I apologize!

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She should be aware that she needs to be quite self-motivated to get her work done. She might have classes where there’s only ever one or two grades given for the whole semester. Because she has already declared her major, she should ensure that she is ready to delve right into her subject pretty intensely. I’ve heard more than one of my British nieces and nephews say that they had American kids on their courses who seemed a bit out of their depth. Not that it’s a scary system, but students start specializing at a younger age in the UK so they might have a little more knowledge of their subject.

College students in the UK tend to be pretty independent. The social scene is more likely to revolve around going out to pubs, bars, and clubs because the drinking age is younger. There are definitely societies she can get involved with too.

Lots of British housing is damp, and even though it doesn’t get super cold in most places, the damp makes it feel colder. The UK in general is damp, haha. If she feels the cold, bring lots of jumpers and long sleeved things.

She should ideally just buy electronic things when she is there: a hair dryer or an iron, for example.


We have similar questions. Our daughter is still waiting to hear about several of her UCAS choices but she is very excited about her Kings College London acceptance. She’s also waiting on a number of US/Canadian colleges as well (we are in the USA). The whole “conditional acceptance” piece is quite a change from what we are used to, as it suggests that she won’t be able to finalize her choice until July, after AP results come out. That definitely adds stress, and time, to the whole process. On the other hand, I appreciate the efficiency of the UK model: “choose max 5 programs and fill out one application.”

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I have not had a child go to university in the UK. I did have a child go to university “slightly abroad” in Canada (we live in the USA).

One issue is that it takes quite a while to wire money abroad. I think that US authorities want to make sure that you are not doing anything illegal, so they seem to hold the funds for a while. Therefore it is helpful for the parent and the child to each have a bank account abroad, and to have the ability to do online banking. We used online banking to pay for things like tuition and to provide our child with spending money. I made sure to wire the needed funds into my “abroad” account in plenty of time so that the money would be available when it was needed. Then you need to file a form FBAR with your US taxes to tell them how much you had in a foreign bank account.

One thing that applies to any child going to school more than a couple of hours from home: Wherever they are going to be, there are stores there too. You do not want to purchase much near your home for them to take if you could purchase the same thing at a store near the school. This is probably more obvious for someone going to school in the UK (from the US).

Also, I did drive in London once. Driving in London is tough. I have taken the public transit there many, many times. It is very good on the most part. I would avoid driving in London.

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Congrats to your Ds, @NCtoUK @jsaffran. We’re based in the UK and my D22 will likely stay here for uni (she’s awaiting a few US college decisions before finalizing her plans).

Building on the posts above, one thing to look out for with London colleges is the location of the dorms. Some are a bit far from campus and require taking bus/tube to get to class. This is not really an issue (except for commuting time), as London has a great public transport system (definitely do NOT get a car).

Also check out the dorm’s quality - UK universities are not as well endowed as US counterparts so quality of facilities can be more variable. Having said that, I think many London colleges have built new dorms or upgraded them in recent years (I recently passed by a few of ICL’s dorms and they were beautiful).

As for preparation, ask your D’s department whether there are readings and other prep that she can do over the summer so that she will be similarly positioned as A level students come fall (this is probably more important for STEM students, though). Ask them also if they have a transition guide for students from abroad on other practical matters (e.g., opening bank accounts, documents to bring).

London is a great city to go to school. Diverse, vibrant, cosmopolitan, fun, safe, etc. One big downside to London is that it is expensive but there’s a lot of discounts for students (travel, theatre, etc.).

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It will be very difficult for a US parent to set up a UK domiciled bank account.

When our son arrived in Oxford, he had to present both his Tier 4 visa and a letter from his college in order to open up a UK bank account.

We had great success over four years using Transfer Wise as opposed to my US Bank sending wire transfers to his UK Bank. Quick, easy, better exchange rate and fees are much smaller than normal US bank fees.


I studied at Oxford in the 90s and lived in London 2000-2002. What a previous poster said about damp is so true. There is often damp, light rain, cold weather. Not worth carting an umbrella around everywhere. A great all purpose weatherproof jacket will go far. Same for footwear. In the summer, it can get pretty hot in places that don’t have A/C, but more of UK is getting A/C b/c of global warming. When I was there, tube cars didn’t have it, so the few days in the 80s were crazy hot on the tube. Now, there are more and hotter days.

OK, here are some odd and funny hints (many of which may have changed over the years). Pack taco mix. Expect Chinese food to be not-great (this may have changed!). Opt for Indian (same dish will be delicious and different all over), Thai and late night donor vans. Yum! Sample all the good stuff Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s has to offer – are you a hobnobs or digestives biscuit person? Lots of chocolate options. Pate. Chili lime chicken and chicken tikka pieces (with lunch meat). Granary bread/baps. Scones & clotted cream. Tea. Beer. (Don’t knock Tesco’s brand)! Invest in an electric kettle over there.

Cabs are expensive. Tube and train everywhere (don’t forget about Brit rail and Docklands Light rail). Buses aren’t bad outside of city centre. The Hammersmith and City line seems convenient but almost never comes.

Won’t bore you with the most obvious stuff. River cruises aren’t crazy expensive, and you will see a lot of landmarks. Some, you can stop off at the Tower or Globe or various places. A few go all the way up to Hampton Court Palace, I think. The Tower tour is worth it. Want to see London, use a regular bus pass and just hop from double decker to double decker (sit up front upstairs). You can change as many buses as you want over the course of an hour for one ride, I think. Don’t buy bus tours. See some shows in the West End or the Globe (even better) or at Guildhall (good for music too). Head off the beaten path. Spend some time in Spitalfields and Whitechapel (where I used to live). Spitalfields has great shops and alleys (think Jack the Ripper). In between is Brick lane w/ great Indian food (though my favorite was further down in White Chapel, but it’s gone). There’s a little pub called Chimes in Pimlico that has great pies and cider. Easy to catch a bus to Oxford for a day trip. See Blenheim Palace along the way or another time.

College (university) gear is probably not a thing and may just be for tourists. (Not sure how this works elsewhere, but it was terribly naf to wear an “Oxford” sweatshirt at Oxford. OK to wear your college stuff (eg. Keble) though). Scarves or sports kit are usually OK.

It might take a while to make friends. In my experience, UK students were friendly but not quick to become friends like Americans. However, the friendships that do develop are worth the time spent getting there.
Have fun!!


PS - your best friend against damp laundry. Neither the college laundry facilities nor the standard combined washer/dryer unit in the houses my son lived in worked very well (especially the latter). Whenever he came home during breaks, his clothes always smelled musty. Has one of these in his flat now and a big improvement.


I did wonder about that. When we set up our accounts in Canada we did need to go there in person. Also, since my daughters and I have dual citizenship that might have helped us. Even then the fact that we are US residents and US citizens meant that they had to comply with the onerous US FBAR requirements.

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Yes Transferwise (now just Wise) is a great solution and far cheaper than wire transfers. We use it for sending money to/from family in the UK. Setting up a bank account will likely have to wait until your kid gets there with passport and visa in hand. Do it the first day, as you won’t have long before tuition and housing payments are due. But online banking in the UK is far easier than in the US, people just do account to account transfers without needing to rely on third party payment solutions like Venmo/Paypal.


In reality, it wasn’t that big a deal for my son to comply. Just an extra form stuck on the back of his US tax return stating the maximum annual balance in the account.

I agree. Cagoules are a word to become familiar with. And hopefully your kid won’t have SAD, as there’s a distinct lack of sunshine in the winter. We were there for 2 weeks over Christmas and only had one day where we saw the sun, for a total of about 2 hours. Long summer evenings on the other hand…

My son’s college bursar was very accommodating on the first term’s payment. Gave him a couple weeks grace to get his account opened and funds over from the US. We did as @Twoin18 has advised - went to the bank on the first possible day. Our son moved into his college on Sunday in advance of international student orientation on Monday. We went to Oxford straight away upon landing at LHR on the preceding Friday am, picked up his visa and his college letter and went straight to the bank. Were all done on that front before the mad rush of freshers week.

Also be prepared that given the sum involved, an app based transfer to the school may not work. Lloyd’s had a 5,000 GBP limit. For each Michaelmas bill, my son had to go to the branch with his passport (very important) to initiate the transfer.

+1 on the electric clothes rack from @HazeGrey
+1 on @CheetahBee’s point about college gear

We are fans of Transferwise/Wise, but have recently set up a Revolut account, that lets us keep funds in different currencies, and that is working well.

→ UK students don’t ‘do up’ their student accommodation the way that US students often do- their rooms are very basic and functional. Figure out the absolutely essential clothes/stuff- and leave half of them home. Get bedding locally. DO bring a couple of things that say ‘home’ really loudly (a photo / pillow / mug / beloved specialty tea / etc), no matter how daft- but just a couple.

→ There will be a ‘bank’ day for international students, when the uni has reps from the local banks on campus to open accounts (ditto the local phone companies). Note that Pay As You Go phone accounts are much easier and friendlier than in the US.

Get set up on WhatsApp.

Finally, no matter how innocent or experienced your daughter is with regards to alcohol, she is a babe in the woods relative to her soon-to-be-peers. She will not be able to keep up right out of the gate. Cider (eg, Angry Orchard), can be a good place to start if she is not already onto beer.


Yes. UK bed sizes are not the same as the US. Generally shorter and narrower so Twin XL won’t fit. Some college beds are even narrower (30 inches), supposedly as a deterrent to sharing :wink:

Duvets and fitted sheet (no top sheet - you wash the duvet cover instead) are typical in the UK (although some places provide bedding and laundry service for it).


Yes! All the British kids we know (a lot) have already been drinking for years at weekend dinner with their families. It’s completely normal to offer a teen a beer or glass of wine. Honestly, I’d start offering her something with her dinner. When she goes to the pub, she can ask for a half, which is literally half a pint. Cocktails are tiny in the UK and not economical, so beer, wine, and cider are common.


Yes. My daughter’s bf is at King’s for a Masters. He takes the tube from Stratford which is about 25 minutes. His college friends live ALL over London: Hampstead, Camden, even Chiswick. Nobody lives right near the college, as it’s very expensive.

Also, depending on the university and the building, there can be students from more than one university in the same dorm.

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And it’s completely normal to be offered drinks (eg sherry) at college events (whether organized by students or tutors). Compared to the US, liquor is taxed relatively heavily in the UK whereas beer is taxed less, wine is in the middle. Cider and lager will typically be refrigerated in line with US tastes, most beer will be warm (cellar temperature). In the UK you can drink beer or wine with a restaurant meal from the age of 16.

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According to my son, watch out for the VK orange. I think he learned that lesson the hard way.