Student life in London

student life in London
Updated 2023-11-29 14:23

For several years, London has been ranked as the best city in the world for University students according to QS World University Rankings. Factors contributing to this ranking are the number of first-class universities, healthy job market, diversity, and quality of life. Despite the high cost of living, most surveyed students agreed that London offers professional networking opportunities, embraces different cultures, and gives access to a rich cultural life thanks to its museums, theatres, and festivals. 

International students in London

London has the most significant share of overseas students in the UK. UCL, LSE, Imperial, and Kings College have the highest percentage of international students (both Undergraduate and Postgraduate). Students must have a Tier 4 student visa to study in the UK and enough money to pay for the course and cover their cost of living. Depending on circumstances, international students are usually limited to 20 hours per week. The latest cost estimates for studying in London are between £10,000 to £30,000 annually for tuition and between £1,200 to £1,800 for living costs.

Useful link:

Visas for studies in the UK

Student social life in London

One of the things that make studying in London so unique compared to other student cities is the prospect of meeting like-minded people from all walks of life and accessing a network, which can boost your career later on. Likely, the friends you will make during your first year at university will remain friends for life, as you will get to share the ups and downs of living in London as independent and responsible adults.

However, you may find that meeting people and making new friends in London is much harder than in other smaller student cities, mainly because London universities don't operate in the traditional campus setting and lack the benefits that come along with a campus student life (e.g. connectivity, community feel, closeness, etc.). But don't get disheartened, as it's up to you to take your social life into your own hands by introducing yourself to fellow students, academic staff, and people outside the university.

Your first socialising experience as a student in London will most likely occur within the university during the student orientation week, before the official start of the academic year. With a series of welcoming events, the Admissions office aims to introduce students to each other, to their academic advisors, and the university's resources (e.g., labs, library, sports facilities, medical services, transportation, etc.) in a friendly and casual manner.

Tips: Contact your institution to find out whether they run pairing programs which match international students with mentors (or buddies) to help you settle in.

Find your favourite spots on campus (even if it's a city campus) and hang out regularly between classes so that your friends know where to meet you without much organisation.

If your social life is limited, consider joining university-run sports clubs, language classes, choirs, art groups, and charities. Sometimes, such activities aren't well-advertised, so there's no harm in asking around or checking posters around campus. But as already mentioned, London student life isn't a traditional homely campus student life, and much of social life takes place outside of the university. So, keep up-to-date with happenings throughout London, and take advantage of the various opportunities that the city offers, such as outdoor activities, volunteer work, etc.

Social life may require spending money. As a student, you may struggle to always catch up with everyone in cafés, restaurants, and bars. If you are trying to save some money for a long weekend trip or you are broke during a particular month, don't panic. You can still meet up with your friends and have fun together. Take the initiative and invite people over to cook dinner, stream movies, or play board games. If the weather is nice and sunny, you will want to make the most of it (this is London, after all). You can organise a picnic at Hyde Park, stroll along the South Bank, or go to a museum you haven't been to before. Not having money for leisure may be the best excuse to organise a study group and gather at a new spot such as a park, the Cake Shop of London Review Bookshop just off the British Museum, or Central Saint Martin's Library.

Tip: Talk to your friends about your finances to avoid misunderstandings and take the pressure off your shoulders. Plus, by being honest, you will create stronger bonds.

To stay focused on your studies and perform well at university without sacrificing your social life and hobbies, get organised. Maybe have a notebook where you can mark the most important dates, such as deadlines, revisions, and exams, and start taking action soon enough to avoid last-minute study or essay writing. The better you manage your tasks, the more time you will have for your friends and the things that make you happy: baking, watching your favourite series, going to the theatre, etc. You can either take many breaks in between studying during the week, or work extremely hard throughout the whole week, and treat yourself to a relaxing weekend.


Studying in London will help you discover yourself and become more independent. However, being abroad on your own can be overwhelming at times. If, at any point in your student life, you feel that you struggle to juggle full-time studying with your part-time job or internship and social life, don't hesitate to ask for advice or help. If your friends or academic advisor seem unavailable, several mental health charities in London can offer support.

Useful links:


Time to Change

London Review Shop

Central Saint Martin's Library & Learning Zone

Student banking and budgeting in London

With so many things to do and places to have fun in London, you may see your finances collapsing, especially if it's your first time away from home.

The first step you should take towards a well-thought-out budgeting plan is to open a UK bank account to prevent foreign currency and other bank charges. To open an account, the bank will ask you for your passport, proof of address (e.g., bill, letter from student housing services), and proof of student status (e.g., university acceptance letter). Possibly, the bank may run a credit check in the form of an interview to ensure that you are a reliable customer. Before choosing your bank, note that different banks offer different perks (e.g., interest-free overdraft, Amazon Prime membership, Railcard, etc.). It's wise to do your research and pick the bank that better covers your financial needs.

Travelling within London significantly accounts for the high cost of living in the capital city. If you regularly commute to your workplace and university and have a London address during term time, limit travel costs by getting an 18 Student Oyster photocard. The 18 Student Oyster gives you 30% off the price of adult rate Travelcards and Bus & Tram season tickets.

Good to know:

The Student Oyster is personalised, which means that even if it gets lost or stolen, you can transfer the remaining amount from the card to a new one.

If you are an avid traveller and wish to combine your student life in London with exploring the rest of the UK, invest in a 16-25 Railcard, which gives you up to one-third off national rail fares. Also, National Express coach services depart from London to some of the most popular UK destinations, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. To get the best deals and save yourself a considerable amount of money, book your tickets well in advance, as it's possible to buy a ticket for as little as £9.

London retail shops, cafés, restaurants, and pubs look after students with generous student discounts, of which you should take advantage. However, not all places advertise those discounts clearly with signs. It's up to you to ask before paying for your purchase if you are entitled to a student discount.

Good to know:

The TOTUM card by the National Union of Students gives you access to over 200 UK student discounts and 42,000 international discounts.

With so many worth-visiting international restaurants in London, students tend to eat out or order regularly, sometimes just for the experience of trying something different rather than the practicality of not cooking at home. If you are looking to keep your taste buds satisfied without killing your wallet, go to voucher websites such as Groupon and Wowcher to find some good deals on restaurants for you. Their discounts may turn some of the poshest places in London into ideal meeting points for a cosmopolitan student night out!

Good to know:

London universities have very rich libraries. With over 350 public libraries and The British Library on your doorstep, it is likely you won't need to purchase any books throughout your studies in London. However, if it's a last-minute call, or you want to upgrade your bookcase, buy books from second-hand shops or purchase them online for better prices.

London is home to about 170 museums, 11 of which are national, and three are in the world's top ten. Also, with over 250 festivals, the biggest selection of live comedy in the world, over 850 art galleries, and four UNESCO World Heritage sites (Tower of London, Maritime Greenwich, Westminster Palace, and Royal Botanic Gardens), there's no doubt the world's cultural heart beats in London. And it is only natural that as a young person in London you will want to make the most of it without spending a fortune. The good news is that most cultural attractions and events offer discounts to students, and many of the permanent collections in the Natural History Museum, V&A, and Tate Modern, among other museums and galleries, are free.

Useful links:

18 Student Oyster photocard

16-25 Railcard

National Express

TOTUM card

Groupon London vouchers

LivingSocial London deals

Wowcher London deals

The British Library

Tate Modern


To learn more about living costs in London, read our article on the cost of living in London.

Making the most of student life in London

To benefit from the freedom and opportunities that London has to offer, it's essential to find the right balance between performing well at university without reaching the point of burnout, staying within your budget, enjoying a social life and expanding your network, and taking care of your wellbeing with regular exercise and good quality food.

London is one of the largest business and financial centres in the world, as well as a global fashion, art, media, and culture hub. Please get to know the world-leading organisations, institutions, and brands in the sectors of your interest that are present in London, and don't hesitate to use your communication skills to approach them. For example, you can introduce yourself via email by attaching your resume and expressing your interest in an internship or volunteer work.

People travel worldwide to indulge in London's international culinary experiences; from Italian, Indian, and Chinese to Ethiopian, Peruvian, and Mexican. So, if you are in the city already, make sure that you allocate some of your time and money to try different flavours. Eating decent meals and not limiting your diet to fast food, pasta, and canned food will help you stay healthy. Of course, you should also try signature English dishes such as Sunday roast, fish & chips, and Beef Wellington in the many traditional London pubs.

It would be best if you balanced a nutritious meal with some good exercise to stay fit. Considering that about 47% of London is green space, there's no excuse not to.

Good to know:

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is home to world-class sports facilities like the London Aquatics Centre. The prices for using the swimming pools of these five-star facilities aren't different from the prices at other local leisure centres.

London is a big city with many local hubs, and in many cases, you don't have to leave your residential or university area to find all you need: work, entertainment, food, and culture. However, it's highly advisable to make some effort to explore this dynamic city, as you will see for yourself that a whole new world may be revealed to you just around the corner. If you wish to seize the day, you can take a day trip to the South of England. Stonehenge is accessible via a direct train from London to Salisbury, and picturesque Oxford city is only an hour away from London by train. Brighton, also known as London-by-the-Sea, has been a popular resort destination for Londoners since the mid-1800s.

With five major airports, including Gatwick and Heathrow, and the St Pancras International Station, from where you can get the Eurostar to Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam, London makes travelling to the rest of Europe and overseas destinations hassle-free and relatively cheap.

Good to know:

Low-cost airlines such as Easyjet, WizzAir, and Ryanair frequently depart from London to most European destinations.

Useful links:

Transport for London, Plan Your Journey

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Safety first in London

It would be best to always enjoy the city without risking your safety. In the event of a terror attack, the national police advise everyone to run to safety first, find a hiding spot, and finally call 999 to inform the authorities. When using public transport, especially at night, have an idea of when to expect your service, and avoid waiting alone for a long time for your bus or train service. Never get in a taxi that you haven't booked in advance or isn't a black cab, and if you decide to go home on foot, stick to busy roads with good lighting.

Good to know:

Most private student living properties have 24/7 CCTV in operation and a secure entry system, usually managed with a key card or password.

Useful links:

National Police

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.