Studying Abroad in the UK: A Complete Guide for 2024

Last updated on February 27th, 2024 at 05:57 pm

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London, UK

World-class universities, major cities that are melting pots of culture, and world-famous landmarks like Buckingham Palace make the United Kingdom a great study-abroad destination for international students. If you’re looking to make the move yourself, there will be a whole checklist of things to tick off, and it can all seem pretty complicated.

That’s why our experts at Remitly have created this swift summary of important points to keep in mind when you’re preparing to settle in the UK as a student. It covers everything from how to get your student visa to finding a place to live, so let’s get into it.

Understanding the UK higher education system

As an international student who hopes to study abroad, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the educational system of the UK before you study abroad. Read on for answers to some frequently asked questions about studying abroad in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

How long does it take to earn a university degree in the UK?

Undergraduate programs typically last for three years at colleges and universities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, undergraduate study is more like it is for American students with bachelor’s degrees requiring four years of full-time study to complete.

The length of postgraduate studies varies depending on the type of program.

How does the grading system work in the UK?

The grading method in the UK is point-based and covers the entire degree program. As a result, you typically don’t receive letter grades for individual classes.

When you have fulfilled all of the academic requirements for your degree, the university examines the total number of points you received compared to the total number available. Then, you receive one of the following designations:

  • First-class honors: Usually for earning around 70 to 100% of the points

  • Upper second-class degree: Typically for earning around 60 to 69% of the points

  • Lower second-class degree: Generally for earning 40 to 49% of the points

  • Fail: Normally for those earning 0 to 39% of the points

What are some prestigious universities in the UK?

There are over 160 universities and colleges in the UK, many of which provide study-abroad opportunities. Among them, the following rank as some of the top universities in Great Britain:

  • University of Oxford in Oxford, England

  • University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England

  • University College London in London, England

  • Imperial College London in London, England

  • King’s College London in London, England

  • University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland

  • University of Manchester in Manchester, England

  • University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland

  • University of Birmingham in Birmingham, England

  • University of Bristol in Bristol, England

What is the application process like at UK universities?

Although each university has its own procedures, students who wish to enroll directly to study abroad in the UK will typically need to do so online at the university’s website.

At most universities, you’ll need to:

  • Provide an academic transcript

  • Submit letters of recommendation

  • Write a personal statement that outlines your goals

  • Provide scores from an English proficiency test if English isn’t your native language

Many universities charge an application fee. The fee amount will vary depending on where you apply, and some schools don’t assess fees at all.

Is there financial aid for studying abroad in the UK?

Scholarship opportunities are available for those who wish to study abroad in the UK. Some come directly from universities, while nonprofits and government organizations administer others. Read our guide to scholarships for international students to learn more about getting help paying for tuition and additional expenses while attending school in the UK.

Choosing a study abroad program in the UK

Now that you know a little about the UK university system, you can start to research programs. Here is some general information to assist you.

What types of study abroad programs are available in the UK?

If you want to study abroad in the UK, you can find programs that last for a week or two, an entire semester, the whole summer, or a full academic year. There are three main types of programs for studying abroad in the UK.

Home university study abroad programs

Many universities enter partnerships with international schools to give their students an opportunity to study in different countries. Check with the study abroad office at your home university to find out if your school sponsors any UK study abroad programs. If it does, you’ll typically apply for the study abroad experience through your current school.

Direct enroll study abroad programs

Another way to study abroad in the UK is to apply directly to a college or university. This route is popular for those who want to earn an entire degree in the UK rather than just spending a summer or semester abroad.

With the direct enroll option, you’ll usually go through the same application process as local students.

Third-party study abroad programs

Third-party study abroad program providers include both for-profit companies and non-profit organizations. If you study abroad through a third-party provider, you may take classes at one of the UK’s top universities or at a campus operated by the program. You’ll need to apply through the provider to enroll in a third-party program.

What are some top subjects to study in the UK?

People studying abroad in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland can choose from a wide range of programs. However, the UK is considered one of the best places in the world to get a high-quality education in certain subjects, including:

  • Art and design: The UK is home to some of the world’s top art schools, like the Royal College of Art in London and the University of the Arts London.

  • Archaeology: The archaeology program at the University of Oxford is world-renowned.

  • Business: London is a major financial center in Europe and one of the most popular study abroad destinations for people studying business, as it’s home to numerous top-ranked schools like the London Business School, the London School of Economics and Science, and Imperial College London.

  • Computer science: The University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and the Imperial College of London are all ranked among the top 20 international universities for computer science.

  • History: With world-class museums like the British Museum, the UK is the perfect place to discover more about the history of the UK and Europe.

  • Sports: Many schools in the UK are consistently ranked among the world’s top schools for studying the science of sports, including Loughborough University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Bath, and Liverpool John Moores University.

How to choose a UK study abroad program

Studying abroad in the UK

Which study abroad program is right for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your academic goals and your personal preferences. Check out our guide on choosing a study abroad program for tips on what to consider.

Applying for a student visa

Having successfully been accepted by an educational institution in the UK, the next thing you need to do is obtain a student visa.

As of this writing, it costs £363 to apply from outside the UK, and you can begin the process up to six months before your program commences. Student visas will let you stay in the UK for up to five years if it’s a degree-level course, and for your application to be successful, you’ll need to: 

  • Verify your identity at a Visa Application Center or through the UK Immigration: ID Check app.

  • Prove you have an unconditional offer of a place on a course by providing your Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) reference number.

  • Prove you can afford to pay for the course and cover your living expenses of £1,334 per month (for up to 9 months) for courses in London or £1,023 per month (for up to 9 months) for courses outside of London), unless your home nation is on a list of multiple countries exempt from this condition. You can find the list here.  

  • Prove you have a good knowledge of English by passing a Secure English Language Test from an approved provider unless you’re from one of the countries listed here.

  • Pay the immigration health surcharge to allow access to the NHS. The fee is £470 per year.

You can apply for student visas online at the official UK government website.

Finding accommodations

Next on the to-do list when moving to the UK to study abroad is arranging where you’ll actually live. Let’s explore the main options.

Student halls of residence

Owned and run by educational institutions, student halls of residence are usually located on or near campus. Student halls provide a convenient way to settle in and make new friends, featuring private rooms, shared kitchens, and social areas, with bills included in the rent.

Private halls of residence

Private residence halls provide accommodations for local and study-abroad students similar to university-run dormitories. However, they’re privately owned rather than a part of the school.

Private rentals

You also have the option to explore private rentals, such as moving into a flat or house with other students or getting your own room in a family home. This is a particularly popular option among students after they complete their first year in halls.

Check out our guide to renting a property in the UK to learn more.


Homestays may also be available for those studying abroad in the UK. With a homestay, you live with a host family and have the chance to fully immerse yourself in a new culture. Often, homestays include free meals so that you can spend less on food during your stay.

Securing a part-time job while studying in the UK

Working part-time while studying abroad will be on the agenda of many students heading to the UK to study from other countries to study abroad. With student visas, anyone studying at a degree level or above will be entitled to work up to 20 hours a week during a term/semester. You’ll also be free to work full-time during breaks/vacation periods.

Bear in mind that you cannot be self-employed (for example, as a freelance writer or a private tutor) or work as an entertainer or sportsperson.

Getting a part-time job will almost always require having a well-written, up-to-date CV/résumé which lists your schooling, exam grades, work experience, and practical skills. You can search for potential jobs using online agency listings, check notice boards at your college or university, or even walk into shops, bars, and restaurants to submit your CV in person. 

If you’re responsible for paying tax on your earnings — which may not be the case as you’ll only be working part-time — your employer automatically deducts this amount. If you did not receive a National Insurance number as part of your visa process, you’ll have to apply for one in order to work in the UK.

Setting up a bank account

Having your own UK bank account will make it far easier to settle into your new life. Thanks to the power of the Internet, you’ll have all the relevant information at your fingertips long before you travel to the UK, with bank websites laying out what services they offer. Things to consider when choosing a UK bank include:

  • What fees may be charged for various aspects of the account

  • Whether the bank provides an easy-to-use mobile app

  • Whether there is bank staff who can speak your native language

  • What other services does the bank offer, from overdrafts and loans to insurance and savings accounts

Studying abroad in the UK

Sending money back home

Moving to study in a new country can be challenging and exciting in equal measure, and you’ll certainly have a lot on your plate when you relocate. But, here at Remitly, we also know that one of your priorities throughout the whole process of moving, settling in, and studying may be to send money back to your loved ones at home. That’s why we recommend you take some time out to research the easiest ways to make international money transfers.

Sending via your UK bank account will certainly be one convenient option. However, you can also look into dedicated online remittance companies, which may provide a more cost-effective way to send. As they don’t have physical retailers, their running costs tend to be lower than banks and traditional money transfer firms. This can, in turn, translate to lower fees for their customers. 

Making the most of your UK study abroad experience

Now that you know what steps to take before you study abroad, you’re ready to prepare.

In addition to researching programs and financial aid options, take the time to learn more about the city where you’ll be staying. Discover what it has to offer in terms of cultural activities and special events, and read our article on how to get the richest cultural experiences while studying abroad, so you can make the most of your time in the United Kingdom.