Things to think of
Please make sure that you have a passport valid for your entire stay in the UK. Passports may take several weeks to get so keep in mind that you have to organise this in advance of your actual trip to the UK. The same applies for visas. You should start the visa application process several months in advance.
If you are not quite sure if you need a visa for your stay in the UK the official website of the UK Border Agency can assist you. They have got a very useful online questionnaire to find out if you have to apply for a visa or not. In case you need to a visa they also give additional advice on how to apply for visas, how long the process will take and lots more.
Visit the UK Border Agency's website
UK power plugs and sockets are different from those used in most other European countries. You will have to buy an adaptor to be able to use your electrical items such as laptops, phone chargers and hair dryers. If you cannot find such an adaptor in your home country you can always buy one at the airport. Most electrical hardware shops in the UK will sell Europe to UK adaptors as well. For more information and a photo of UK power plugs and sockets please go to Wikipedia.
Generally, banks in the UK are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Some banks open their branches on Saturdays as well. We advise you to keep an active current account in your home country when you first arrive in the UK so that you have instant access to some cash. Most UK cash points accept Visa, Master as well as Maestro cards. Banks usually offer international currency exchanges and traveller cheques are widely accepted as well. The currency in the UK is pound sterling – abbreviated £.
Please be aware that opening a bank account in the UK can be quite difficult and the process might take several weeks. Many banks offer special bank accounts with fewer charges for young people and students. You should compare the offers of different banks to find out which one suits you best.
Bank will base their decision on accepting you as a customer on different factors such as your financial history and your legal status in the UK. Registered full time student, for example, will find it much easier to get a bank account than backpackers. Generally, the more paperwork you can provide the better the chances are of getting approval for a bank account. We would therefore recommend bringing copies of your bank statements of the past six months. You will also have to present a proof of address. This might be a major obstacle for you, especially if you don’t have a permanent address in the UK yet or if you are travelling around. Some banks will accept you old address in your home country as enough of a security check.
For an overview of UK banks and current accounts visit the Moneysupermaket website.
The UK has got a publicly-funded health care system, referred to as NHS. This means that anyone resident in the UK is eligible to receive treatment. When arriving in the UK you have to register with your local GP (General Practitioner). Unlike many other European countries you cannot freely choose any doctor. You have to live in the catchment area of your GP. To find out which doctors you could register with ask your landlord, flatmates or someone in a local shop. You can also visit the NHS website for more information on the UK health system and if you need help identifying a GP in your area.
Tax, National Insurance and Social Security
As a UK resident you have to apply for a National Insurance number (NI number). This number is your own personal account number. The number ensures that the National Insurance contributions and the tax you pay are properly recorded on your account. It also acts as a reference number for the whole social security system. To find out how to apply for your NI number visit the DirectGov website.