Travelling to the UK: Essential Information


Most international students arrive in the UK by air. For many this will mean that they come on an international flight directly from their own country into one of the major airports in the UK – often Heathrow or Gatwick near London, or sometimes Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow airports. Most international airlines have direct flights to London, for example. If there are no direct flights to London from your own country, then you have two choices – make a short flight to a city or country that does have direct flights to London, or fly direct to another city in Europe such as Paris or Amsterdam then make a short flight to the UK.

If your university is in or close to one of the major cities served by these airports then you can complete your journey by local transport. However, if your university is a long way from one of the main airports you should think whether it might be better to fly to a regional airport closer to your university.

Many regional airports have direct flights from London, Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow, and many also have direct connections to European airports such as Paris or Amsterdam. So, check where the nearest airport is to your university city or town and also check whether you can choose a flight route that goes directly to that airport.

When your flight arrives in the UK you will have to pass first of all through the UK border, where you will have to show your passport and your visa to a UK Border Agency Officer. You will also have been given an immigration form on the flight to fill in, which you will need to hand to the Officer.


You will then need to collect your baggage from the baggage area, and pass through Customs Control. At this stage you will have to indicate if you are bringing any goods into the UK that require you to pay duty. You need to be aware of the limits and regulations about goods that you bring into the UK.

There are obviously some goods that it is illegal to bring into the country, including recreational drugs, firearms, endangered animal products and some foods. In addition there are limits about how much of other goods such as alcohol or tobacco that you can bring with you. The UK Border Agency website indicates what you can and cannot bring into the UK, and you should study this carefully before you plan what to bring with you.

After passing through Customs you will enter the Arrivals area of the airport where you can begin your journey to your university or university town.

Getting to your institution

Every university will give you detailed instructions about how to travel from the airport and where to come to when you arrive at the university or the university town. During late September, the time when most university programmes begin, many universities arrange for a representative to be at the nearest major airport to welcome international students and assist them with their journey from the airport. This may include providing a special bus to take you to the university, which obviously makes transport very easy for you.

However, it is more likely you will need to make your own travel arrangements, and this will usually involve travelling by bus or train.

Major airports all have good bus connections, as part of the national bus network. You will be able to catch a bus to almost any city in the UK, although your journey may involve changing buses at some point. The National Express website contains information on national bus networks and will enable you to plan your route from the airport. Travel agents will be able to book a ticket for you before you leave your own country.

Most airports also have excellent rail connections, and you may be able to travel to your university town by train. This may involve catching a train into the centre of the nearest city (for example from London Heathrow to central London) and then catching a connecting train to your destination. The National Rail website contains information on national rail networks and will enable you to plan your rail journey from the airport. Travel agents will be able to book a ticket for you before you leave your own country. Rail travel is usually faster and more comfortable than bus travel in the UK, but is also more expensive.

You will arrive in your university town or city at either the railway station or the bus station, and you will need to then find your way to your arrival point.

This could be one of several places, and your university should have given you clear instructions about where you should report to. It could be:
• A reception point at the university, where there are staff and students to welcome you and help you find your way to your accommodation.
• Your accommodation, if it is in university halls of residence. You will need to report to the reception office at the halls of residence, and they will direct you to your room or flat.
• If you are living in rented accommodation outside the university, then you may need to arrange with the accommodation owner (the landlord) or agent to meet them at the accommodation address.

To get to your arrival point, with all your luggage, you will probably find it easiest to get a taxi. Taxis are available at most bus stations and rail stations, and licensed taxis are clearly identified by their signs. Taxis in the UK are not cheap, and you will probably have to pay about £1 for each kilometre of the journey – the fare will be the amount you can see on the fare meter at the end of the journey, and in addition you should normally give the taxi driver a 10% tip, particularly if you had a lot of luggage the driver helped to carry. Remember you will have to pay this in cash, so have enough UK currency to hand for this.

Potential problems

There are three particular problems that new arrivals sometimes have to face:

Your flight/bus arrives late at night
It is important to check well in advance what the time will be in the UK when you arrive as a late arrival time may cause you some difficulties. (Sometimes, of course, flights are delayed and you may arrive in the UK late at night even if that was not your schedule.) While many airports are open 24 hours a day, trains and buses do not run through the night. Also, you will face problems if your schedule means that you will arrive at your university or university town at night, as the reception points are likely only to be open during normal working hours (9 am to 5 pm). We would recommend very strongly, therefore, that you arrange your journey so that you arrive at your reception point well within the working day (probably no later than 3 pm), and that you do not arrive at a weekend, for you may then have to wait until Monday to report to reception. If this is not possible, then arrange in advance to stay in a hotel or guest house for one night, either near to the airport or close to the rail station or bus station in your university town. This can be arranged in advance for you by your travel agent, and you can then simply get a taxi either from the airport or the rail/bus station to your hotel/guest house. This will allow you to rest, and you can then report to reception the following day.

Your accommodation is not available when you first arrive
It is quite unusual for accommodation not to be available for you, unless of course you have not arranged any. Providing you have been in communication with the accommodation office at the university, there should not be any problem. They will have advised you about where you can stay temporarily if need be until your accommodation is available or until you have found somewhere to live. Universities often have temporary accommodation where new international arrivals can stay for a few days until they can move to their permanent accommodation, or can provide details of low cost hotels or guest houses where you can stay.

You arrive at an unusual time of year
Most programs start in late September or early October, but it is possible in many universities to start a PhD program at any time of the year. If you arrive at the university in time for the normal start of the academic year then there are usually careful arrangements to welcome you and help you, but if you arrive at another time this may be more difficult. If this is the case, then discuss with your university admissions staff and with your university department what the arrival arrangements will be. The most important things to remember, though, are:
• Do not arrive at your university outside normal working hours, Monday to Friday, if you can possibly avoid it.
• If you must arrive outside these times, arrange in advance accommodation where you can stay until the university will be ‘open’.
• Always be sure you have made arrangements before you leave home about where you are going to be staying for at least your first three nights in your university town or city, even if this needs to be in a hotel or guest house.
• Make sure that you have UK currency with you before you leave the airport to pay for taxis, telephone calls or food and drink.

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