28 Jan 2017

All You Want To Know About Exchange (Part II): Life in UK

If you are already on this post, welcome to life in the UK and congratulations for making it thus far... As you know, "Preparing for exchange is a 3AU mod" - Gabriel Tan, 2014

I did my exchange in University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, United Kingdom. If you do not know where on earth Hatfield is, here you go:

I divided this post up into 7 aspects of life in the UK, hopefully they will be of help to you!

***This post is entirely my opinion and my views on exchange. So if you disagree or what, please don't take it too personally or get batshitcraybutthurt offended kthxbai (even if you do, I don't really care either lel.)***

There is no need to apply for a visa in the UK if you are only going to be there for a semester. Student Visa only applies to those who are staying for a duration of more than 4 months. Anything 4 or less does not require a Visa. Upon reaching the airport border security, please have your University Offer Letter on hand (on the phone is fine too, just make sure that the resolution is good). The officer will give you a stamp on the passport that says "Student Visa". Everytime you exit the UK to travel, please remember to have either your Host University's matriculation card or best, your offer letter with you.

I always have it with me in my phone's email inbox, so that was very helpful!

Bank Accounts
I did not apply for any bank accounts while I was there as I was travelling for a month before I settled into my host university and I did not want to risk bringing around too much money. The best bet of bank that you could go for if you did not want to create a UK bank account would be HSBC, as it is most commonly seen around besides the usual Santanders, Lloyd Bank and Barclays.

In my host university, there is a Santanders outlet. Feel free to approach them if you want to create a bank account. If I'm not wrong, after creating your account, you'll have to wait a week or two till your card comes, and it comes separately with the activation letter. So there's just a lot of waiting involved.

Pros of creating a bank account: There are companies who do not accept non-UK registered cards, such as Tesco Online. Also, you can avoid fees that Singapore banks charges you for withdrawing cash or using your card overseas!

Cons of creating a bank account: Since it is a bank account created overseas, it would be a slight hassle to close it at the end of exchange. (Trust me, you'll be so busily packing up your things you would not have any time to head to the bank) Also, if you want to remit money overseas using UK bank account, the bank charges a hefty amount of fees for that.

Personally, I opened an account with HSBC before I left and enabled my card for overseas usage. Straightforward and simple! But please note that you need to keep a minimum of SGD 2000 in your account!

Backpacked through Italy, Germany and Cornwall without changing to another SIM card!

The three bigger telcos in UK are namely Three, giffgaff and vodafone. Most of my friends studying in the UK uses giffgaff, but while I was there I used Three.

If you do not intend to travel much, giffgaff would be a better option for you. Do check out their SIM-only deals here. They have a £20 plan for unlimited data, calls and texts per month. Three only offers 12GB data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts for a month for £20.

However, I opted for Three as I travelled out of the UK a lot and Three has this amazing function called "Feel At Home" where they have free roaming in many other countries outside UK! Do check out the various destinations here. Back in Singapore, I have a 12GB plan, so I would not mind giving up unlimited data for the ease of not needing to switch SIM cards everytime I fly out. There was never a time where I had to get another SIM card as Three was supported in Italy, Germany, Iceland, Croatia, Belgium, Slovenia, Netherlands, Ireland and Spain!

I stayed on campus throughout the duration of my exchange at Telford Court! For exchange students only there for a semester, only three types of accommodation are offered to you: Telford Court (£120++) per week, Bellingham Court (£150++) and De Havilland (£130++). Telford Court is kinda like our NTU halls with a shared kitchen and shared toilet. Bellingham Court has either an ensuite toilet, or a toilet shared between two rooms, and a shared kitchen. De Havilland has an ensuite toilet and shared kitchen. Telford Court and Bellingham Court are on the College Lane campus where most of the faculties are situated at. De Havilland is where the Humanities, Business and Law faculties are situated at.

Then again, this is only for my own university town. Some of my friends who went on exchange chose to rent an apartment or multiple rooms via Airbnb! My mum who came over for 3 months to do a short course in Oxford also rented an Airbnb room. The family was so pleasant and invited her to celebrate festivals like Halloween with them! Her photos of her trick-o-treating with her host family were so adorable.

Not National Rail, but I guess a photo onboard a Trenitalia train will do!

National Rail and National Express FTW! If you think you're gonna take the train a lot (Especially for those who are heading to University of Hertfordshire), GET A 16-25 RAILCARD!!!!! (only for those who are 16 to 25 years old) I had my best friend studying in London to get my railcard for me, so thanks Mao if you're reading this!! It's £30, but occasionally you would have discounts. (I got my ADM friends' railcards at £20!) Don't worry about the £30... If you decide to take the train every week, you would recoup the £30 in NO TIME! The train saves you 1/3 of the fare everytime you take the train so.... :)

Get a coach card if you decide to travel around on the National Express often! I did not really use my coach card a lot while on exchange. Only occasionally do I use it to take the coach to Oxford to visit my mum, or to Luton to catch a plane. However, if you are exchanging in bigger cities like Bristol, they coach everywhere! (just like my boyfriend who has never taken a train until he had to come to Hatfield to visit me) It's £10 a year and it also saves you 1/3 of your coaching fares!

Let's not talk about the bus system in Hatfield as it is horrendous. I once waited for a bus to the station for 40 mins, and the board kept saying the bus would arrive in 5 mins. This made me appreciate the bus system in Singapore so much more.

Since the bus is always unreliable, I would always prefer to take a cab to the station if I'm in a rush (I'm always in a rush because #badtimemanagement). It costs £3.50 within Hatfield, but the fare may be switched to metered fare if its on a public holiday or a sunday after certain timing. Contact this amazing £3.50 cab company called AAA Taxis at 888 888 (wow so fatt/many appropriates for CNY/much auspicioux)

If I am going out of Hatfield, I would prefer to take an Uber as it is SO MUCH CHEAPER and saves you an arm and leg. Compared to AAA Taxis (£13-20), a trip to St Albans on Uber will cost you around £6-9 on a good day!

Useful Applications
1. Trainline
It is my favourite application, and it wins any transportation app out there, hands down. Check, reserve, refund train tickets all on this app! But do note that refunds are only for certain journeys and it must be done within 24 hours! The UX design for this app is 100/100, definitely recommending it to anyone visiting the UK.

2. Citymapper
I absolutely love this app as it is much better than Google Maps. Citymapper gives you LIVE updated transport information in London as tube cancellations are so frequent there! Google Maps may not be that updated, so that may cost you a huge, expensive detour if the tubes fail as tube trips are £2++ per trip!

3. GoEuro
I used this app to check bus/train/flight timings and prices when I want to travel around Europe and out of UK. It is like Skyscanner, but with the train and bus timings, together with the flight, all in one! It gives you bus timings when you want to say, check if traveling from Barcelona to Madrid is cheaper by bus or Renfe. It also gives you National Express timings! Love this app so much!

Last thing about transportation in the UK: Do you know that the amount you pay for trips on the oyster card are capped at £7 per day! On my final full day in the UK, I was at London and I spent just nicely £7 with 50p left in my card. Gosh, I was so lucky!

Remember to also deactivate your tube card to get the £5 deposit back before you leave the UK!

Standard homecooked dinners at Hertfordshire

The major supermarkets in UK are namely: Tesco, Sainsburys, Co-Op. ASDA, ALDI and Waitrose. In Hatfield, the most convenient two supermarkets are ASDA and ALDI, with ASDA being the largest. There is also a small Co-Op but we rarely bought our food there. ASDA sells almost everything, from food to bedding to clothes to toiletries!

If you are on exchange with a group of friends, pull your grocery lists together and order them online via Tesco! Pro-tip: Take turns to create an account every month to get free delivery once you hit a total order amount above £40! Tesco is so convenient as they deliver right to your doorstep a day after you submit your orders!

There aren't many dining options in our university, and the nearest dining options are at least a 1.5-2km walk out in the cold/calling delivery. So we end up cooking our own meals most of the time. All the girls who didn't know how to cook at the start of exchange turned into domestic goddesses and confident cooks who can whip up a good lunch for themselves by the end of exchange. That's how much practice we had in cooking.

WEW /wipes sweat off forehead/ and with that, I'm more or less done with what I have to say about my guide to life in the UK! If you've any questions, please direct it to my ask.fm! And hope you'll have a gr888888 time at exchange. Make full use of it and travel whenever you can! Chill, because all the modules are pass/fail hehe.

Stay Outruigeous!
Ming Rui

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