International students: Things to sort out after arriving in the UK

If you’re moving to Aberdeen from abroad to study at RGU, there are important things you need to take care of after arriving in the UK, such as registering with a doctor and opening a bank account. Here is a guide that will help you with administrative tasks you should do upon arrival:

Register with a doctor

Making sure that you have access to healthcare while studying in Scotland should be on your priority list. Before arriving, you should have already checked if the health insurance from your home country covers you while you’re abroad. If you’re not covered, you will have to pay the health surcharge as part of your visa application to have access to the National Health Service (NHS) .

The NHS provides medical and health care services which are funded by the government. Here are some of the services you can access through the NHS: seeing a doctor or a nurse, getting treatment at the hospital, seeing a midwife if you are pregnant, and getting urgent help from ambulance services. Please note, not all health services are free but many of the most common ones are.

Once you obtain access to NHS services, you should register with a doctor. In the UK, this will be with a  General Practitioner (GP). We recommend you choose a GP practice close to your accommodation. You can find a list of the GPs closest to you on the NHS inform website or via the RGU New Students info pages. To register, simply contact the GP surgery of your choice, where they will give you some forms to fill out and ask you to provide some documents, such as a proof of address.

After returning all the necessary documents, you will be set! Make sure to visit your GP surgery’s website to find out the best way to make an appointment in case you are feeling unwell in the future.

Open a UK bank account

One of the first things you’ll want to do once you have enrolled is open a UK bank account. Having a UK bank account will help you pay your RGU fees, avoid foreign currency charges, and receive your wages should you take a part time job.

There are many options for which bank you set up your account with. It can pay to shop around, as many banks will offer specific student accounts that come with benefits such as flexible overdrafts, discounts on things like concert tickets, or favourable rates on international currency transfers. Check out your options online before opening an account to see which bank will suit your needs best.

To open a bank account in the UK, you will need some documents to provide proof of identity. These documents usually include a valid passport, proof of address and confirmation you are an enrolled RGU student. You can request a bank support letter once enrolled from RGU’s Student Help Point or via AskRGU.

Opening a bank account can take some time,  so it is important that you have access to money to help you through your first few weeks in Aberdeen. You may wish to bring cash or travellers cheques to convert once you are here. Or you can think about setting up a pre-paid currency credit card where you pre-load money in your local currency, which you can then draw down in GBP once you get here. Check out services like this from Western Union, WeSwap and Revolut.

Plan your budget and make part-time work arrangements

For all students, your first priority should be your education. You should ensure to leave yourself enough time to focus on getting the best results from your studies. The outcome of your academic efforts will last a lifetime, and is far more valuable than earning some extra money in the short term.

It is also important to note that part-time work will not cover your living expenses, and your core costs such as accommodation, food and transport must be covered by maintenance funds you showed as part of your visa application. A helpful tool for planning your money to last throughout the year is to use a Student Budget Tool like the one on the RGU website.

If you are planning on bringing your family with you to Aberdeen, it is essential to research the additional costs. You may find many things far more expensive or more limited than in your home country, such as childcare, education, clothing and social activities.

What part-time work can offer you though, in addition to some pocket money to add some luxuries into your life, is the opportunity to meet new people, learn new skills and challenge yourself in a new environment. If you intend to work while studying, you will need a National Insurance (NI) number. The National Insurance number proves that you are legally allowed to work in the UK, which is why it’s essential that you get one. Check your biometric residence permit (BRP) first to make sure you don’t already have a NI number printed on the back. If you don’t, you will have to go through the application process.

You should call 0800 141 2075 to apply. Once you have given all the required documents, it will take eight to nine weeks to receive your number. But don’t worry, you will still be able to start working beforehand if you show proof of your application. Simply keep in mind that you can only work a maximum of 20 hours per week during the academic year, or you can end up in breach of your visa.

Buy a new sim card for your phone

To avoid international call rates and data roaming charges, you should get a new sim card as soon as you arrive in Scotland. Sim cards and phone deals are widely available so you can research in advance who you would like to sign up with. Or you could simply pick up a sim card at Aberdeen airport for peace of mind.

There are a couple of common options students will select for their phone usage. You can either get a “Pay As You Go” sim card, or sign a contract with a phone operator. With a Pay As You Go sim, you have the advantage of being able to top up your phone with credit anytime you want. However, this means you will have to monitor how much you’re using to make sure you don’t spend too much money topping up your credit. With a monthly contract, the money comes out directly out of your bank account each month, giving you access to a pre-set amount of minutes and data you can use. Some contracts offer the possibility to cancel your plan on short notice, giving you some much-needed flexibility.

To make international phone calls without breaking the bank, we advise you to use services like WhatsApp, Facetime or Zoom. These are all free to use and simply need a WIFI or data connection. Another tip is to get your current handset unlocked in your home country so that when you arrive in the UK, you can simply pop in your new sim card and start making calls.

Sort out public transport

Depending on where your accommodation is located, you might need to take the bus to get to the RGU campus. FirstBus lines 1 and 2 can take you from the city centre to RGU in a short time. You should download their app on your phone to browse their ticket deals. With the app, you will also be able to purchase tickets directly from your phone and scan them when hopping on the bus. If you plan on taking the bus often, you could think about investing in a student yearly pass, but wait until you have gotten your timetable before making that commitment.

Within Aberdeen, most buses are operated by FirstBus, which makes it easy to plan a journey once you download the app. If you want to explore Aberdeenshire and go see some castles for example, you will have to check the Stagecoach buses and routes. They also offer student deals, which can help you with budgeting.

Another popular transport option with students is to hire a bicycle through RGU GoGreen’s BikePad scheme. Full year rental costs only £80 and includes bike maintenance. This will help you save money and be kind to the environment.

Once you have all these things sorted, it’s time for you to have the best university experience possible! You can learn more about life in Aberdeen on the RGU website.

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