Living in the UK
The British currency is the pound. Notes issued are: £5, £10, £20 and £50. Visa and MasterCard Credit and Debit cards are accepted at most cash dispensers and these can be a cheap way of obtaining British currency because they generally work on a good exchange rate. Check with your own bank first as there will be a maximum amount that you can withdraw in this way.
Travellers’ cheques can be changed at banks, building societies, larger post offices, travel agents, bureaus de change and large supermarkets. Be careful, as some charge more than others!
Opening a bank account in the UK can be difficult without proof of address from the UK or any credit history in the UK. A letter from your bank and/or a sequence of recent bank statements from your home country will help, and Academics can assist you in opening a bank account easily.
The transport system in the UK is extensive with trains and buses linking all major cities and towns. Airports are dotted all over the country and access to these is very good. The Tube (or Underground) in London is the most convenient and efficient way of commuting around the capital, as traffic can be a problem. Oyster Cards are a cost effective travel pass which you can buy for regular use on the tube. For more information visit the Transport for London website.
The UK has a large second hand car market and if you shop around good bargains can be found. All cars need to have car insurance, road tax and an MOT (Ministry of Transport) certificate before it is allowed on the road. autotrader.co.uk is a worthwhile site to visit if you decide the purchase of a car is necessary. A reasonable car can be purchased for under £600. You may also wish to carry out a status check on any second-hand car to ensure that it has not been involved in any major accidents or that it does not have any outstanding finance, as this is linked to the car rather than the owner. (These can be completed online using the car registration and chassis number.)
In all cases an A-Z map of your local area is essential, particularly in London. These can be purchased at most bookstores, garages and local shops. If you have online access, journeyplanner.gov.uk and streetmap.co.uk are useful websites for finding your way around.
Taxis are generally easy to come by. In cities you will see the familiar black cab, which will stop if you hail it in the street. A mini cab cannot stop for you on the street but will need to be pre-booked or collected from a taxi rank. Beware of unlicensed mini cabs especially in bigger cities - many of these drivers have no licences, no insurance and their cars may not be roadworthy. Always be suspicious of very low fares and check if the driver has registration documents in their cab.
In an emergency, healthcare is free in the UK and the standards are the highest in the world. General taxation funds the National Health Service (NHS). There is a shortage of NHS doctors, especially in London and it may be difficult to find a practice that has space for you. The easiest way to contact an NHS GP is at nhs.uk where you will find a list of names and numbers to contact in the area you will be living. You will need to register with a doctor in advance in your local area as the majority do not accept walk-in cases and those who do, generally have very long waiting times. Dentists are not free but some are subsidised by the NHS. You will need to register with a dentist as with your GP.
For short term accommodation there are hostels, bed and breakfasts, hotels and friends’ couches! This will be expensive (except for the couch) and not suitable for long periods of time. The Internet is a good tool for accessing this type of accommodation. Some useful websites are detailed below:
Finding more permanent accommodation will depend on your budget and where in the country you want to live. London is more expensive than the rest of the country but generally the nearer you live to a city, the more expensive the accommodation becomes.
You will be able to choose from a wide range of agents and companies who can help with renting and/or buying a property. Renting a flat before you arrive is not recommended so it may be necessary to book into temporary accommodation for a couple of days to find your feet and take it from there. Rented accommodation is very common. Apartments, flats and studios of different descriptions are available countrywide either for an individual or shared.
A 3 bed flat in London could cost up to £1000+ a month (shared amongst flat mates of course) although it does depend in which part of the city you live. In rental situations, it is customary that credit checks and references are carried out before a tenancy agreement is signed. Once you are successful, the initial rental period will be for approximately 6 months and then it is extended if needed. On signing this agreement, a deposit will be necessary which usually comprises of 4-6 weeks rent. This deposit is refundable on leaving the property and used by landlords to safeguard the property against damages and breakages. A month’s rent in advance is also standard procedure. This is an expensive process so you must ensure that you have enough money to cover your initial costs.
You will also have household bills for council tax, gas, electricity, water and telephone accounts. When sharing a property, the bills will be shared by each tenant and this will keep your expenses down.
Tax, National Insurance
All teachers in the UK are subject to tax on their earnings and must also make a contribution to National Insurance. The UK has a staggered tax system - the more you earn, the higher the tax rate.
On starting work in the UK you may be issued with a temporary National Insurance number which will allow you to begin work. This number will usually begin with TN followed by 6 digits (your date of birth ddmmyy) followed by M or F depending on your gender.
Academics will ensure you have all of the relevant forms and numbers in place and will recommend the most suitable payment methods dependent on your circumstances when you arrive.
Nearly all supply teachers in the UK have a mobile phone so you can easily be contacted and to help organise your social life. It can be difficult to arrange these on a contract basis but ‘PAYG” (pay as you go) can be a cost effective option when you initially arrive. Although the phone purchase may be more expensive at first, you can budget your calls and top up your credit at any local newsagents or shop. Phone providers include Orange orange.co.uk, T Mobile t-mobile.co.uk, Vodafone vodafone.co.uk, O2 o2.co.uk, and Three three.co.uk. If you already own a mobile phone it may be worth checking with your service provider for cheap international calls (from land lines), there are lots of deals to be found. A call to Australia should cost no more than 4p, New Zealand 5p, South Africa 10p and Canada 4p per minute, so make sure you shop around. Phone cards are available for overseas calls from most corner shops and newsagents and these have competitive tariffs.
There are plenty of Internet cafes in larger towns and cities. Many local libraries offer free internet access and general computer usage, as well as computer courses. Easy Internet Café is London’s cheapest and best-known chain of internet stores. For your nearest store, visit easyinternetcafe.com.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in the UK can vary depending on where you are living. The costs in London and some of the larger cities like Manchester and Birmingham can be more than in other areas and this can be hard when you first get to the UK and your savings start to disappear. The following is a list of the approximate price of everyday items:
- Pint of Milk 70-80p
- Loaf of Bread 70p - 90p
- Ready made meal £3.00 - £5.00
- Can of Coke 80p
- Chocolate Bar 60p
- Apples each 40p
- Bananas each 20p
- Pint of beer (in a Bar) £2.00 - £3.00
- Bottle of Wine (in the supermarket or Off Licence) £3.00 - £7.00
- Newspaper 25p -50p
- Cinema Tickets £8 - £11.00
- Nightclub entry £10 - £20
- CD £10 - £15
- Haircut £10 - £20 (males) or £20 - £70 (females)
- Internet access 50p + depending on time
Approximate costs of other items to budget for (they will vary depending on your location and how many people you live with):
- Utilities (Water, Gas, Electricity) – £10 per week talkingcities.co.uk
- Council Tax – £15 per week
- Transport – Using an ‘Oyster Card’ will allow you to purchase a weekly ticket for approximately £35 and allows travel on all trains and buses.
- Television Licence – £140 per year (yes, you need a licence to get access to TV airwaves in the UK!)
- Social Costs – only you know how often you like to visit the local pub or eat in fine restaurants!
There are gyms all over the country with varying facilities dependant on the area. To join a gym there is generally a monthly membership fee from £30 (depending on the type of membership and facilities available) and you will need a bank account and proof of permanent address in the UK.
Things To Do
The UK has plenty to offer its visitors. It is advisable to take a few days out to allow you to get over the inevitable jet lag. The sites below will provide some information on what UK cities have to offer.