Information from UKCISA

When you first arrive in the UK, you will notice differences between the way things are done and what you are used to at home. These include the way people dress, speak and behave, teaching and learning styles and, of course, the food.

This can be confusing and difficult at first, as even something simple like buying a bus ticket needs figuring out – can I buy it on the bus, or from a shop or kiosk? Do I have to validate it? Does it cover a single trip, or a set period of time?

You will soon learn the new “rules” to get by, but it may be reassuring to know that it’s perfectly normal to find it hard at first. Your fellow international students will share the experience – but so will many UK students who are away from home for the first time, even if they don’t realise this.

For more information visit the UKCISA website.


Many students find that the British weather affects them a lot. You may be used to a much warmer climate, or you may just find the greyness and dampness, especially during the winter months, difficult to get used to. If you come from a warm climate, you may find it uncomfortable to wear heavy winter clothing. Not all students will find the British style of dress different but, for some, it may seem immodest, unattractive, comical or simply drab.


You may find British food different to your home cuisine. It may taste different, or be cooked differently. If you are in self-catering accommodation and unused to cooking for yourself, you may find yourself relying on “fast” food instead of your usual diet. Try to find a supplier of familiar food, and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.


Constantly listening and speaking in a foreign language is tiring, you may find that you miss your familiar language which at home would have been part of your everyday environment. Even if you are a high level English speaker it is possible that the regional accents you discover when you arrive in the UK will make the language harder to understand. People may also speak quickly and you may feel embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they have said.

Social Roles

Social behaviours may confuse, surprise or offend you. For example you may find people appear cold and distant or always in a hurry. This may be particularly likely in the centre of large cities. Or you may be surprised to see couples holding hands and kissing in public. You may find the relationships between men and women more formal or less formal than you are used to, as well as differences in same sex social contact and relationships.

‘Rules’ of Behaviour

As well as the obvious things that hit you immediately when you arrive, such as sights, sounds, smells and tastes, every culture has unspoken rules which affect the way people treat each other. These may be less obvious but sooner or later you will probably encounter them and once again the effect may be disorientating.

For example there will be differences in the ways people decide what is important, how tasks are allocated and how time is observed. The British generally have a reputation for punctuality. In business and academic life keeping to time is important. You should always be on time for lectures, classes, and meetings with academic and administrative staff. If you are going to be late for a meeting do try to let whoever you are meeting know. Social life is a little more complicated. Arranging to meet to see a film at 8pm means arriving at 8pm. But if you are invited to visit someone’s home for dinner at 8pm, you should probably aim to arrive at about ten minutes after eight, but not later than about twenty past. When going to a student party an invitation for 8pm probably means any time from 9.30 onwards! These subtle differences can be difficult to grasp and can contribute to culture shock.


Although you may first become aware of cultural differences in your physical environment, e.g. food, dress, behaviour, you may also come to notice that people from other cultures may have very different views of the world from yours. Cultures are built on deeply-embedded sets of values, norms, assumptions and beliefs. It can be surprising and sometimes distressing to find that people do not share some of your most deeply held ideas, as most of us take our core values and beliefs for granted and assume they are universally held. As far as possible, try to suspend judgment until you understand how parts of a culture fit together into a coherent whole. Try to see what people say or do in the context of their own culture’s norms. This will help you to understand how other people see your behaviour, as well as how to understand theirs. When you understand both cultures, you will probably find some aspects of each that you like and others that you don’t.

Health & Healthcare

Arriving in a new country is a very busy time and there are a lot of changes to go through. For example, there are differences in food, weather and customs to cope with. In this type of situation, with all its stresses, you can find yourself paying less attention than usual to your health.

Existing health problems can also be made worse by the effects of adjusting to unfamiliar food, a different climate and the emotional strains of being away from home. It can be easy to concentrate on your studies and forget about taking care of yourself.

This section aims to give advice on looking after yourself, as well as practical information on how to obtain medical treatment. It also explains students’ entitlement to free medical treatment under the UK state health system.

When you arrive at your place of study you should register with a doctor as soon as possible. Do not wait until you are ill. If your institution has its own health centre, you may be able to register there. Otherwise, you should register with any doctor close to where you live. A list of local doctors will be available from the Post Office, or your local authority, or from the NHS website.

To register, you will need to visit the doctor’s surgery or clinic during consulting hours, taking a letter from your institution as proof that you are a student. You should ask to be added to the list of NHS patients. Most doctors’ surgeries have female as well as male doctors, and if you prefer you can ask to be put on a woman doctor’s list. If you only want to be seen by a woman doctor, you may need to say so whenever you make an appointment.

To avoid paying the full (private) cost of treatment make sure the doctor knows you want treatment from the NHS.

If the doctor accepts you as a patient you will be sent a medical card through the post with your NHS number. However, being registered with a GP (doctor), and having an NHS number, does not give you automatic entitlement to free hospital treatment. The hospital providing treatment is responsible for establishing whether international students are entitled to hospital treatment without charge.

If the doctor does not accept you as a patient, try elsewhere or contact the local Primary Care Trust, whose address can be obtained from the post office or doctor or from the NHS (at Under the NHS, appointments with doctors are free. Ask whether or not you have to make an appointment to see the doctor, and remember to arrive on time for any appointment you make. Normally a doctor will only agree to visit you at home in emergencies, when whoever is sick is confined to bed and cannot get to the surgery

Healthy Eating

Eating the right food, and enough of it, is vital for keeping warm and healthy. If you are living in a catered hall of residence you will probably be given a balanced diet, but you should still be careful to make sure that you eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables. If you have special dietary requirements (for example, for religious or cultural reasons) make sure the catering authorities know about them.

If you are cooking for yourself, eating healthily can be more difficult, especially if preparing your own meals is new to you. Most big towns have stores or areas where you can buy food from different parts of the world, so you may be able to find food that is familiar.

A healthy diet is one which includes elements from all the main food groups (protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals). You should try to eat something from each of the following groups every day:

  • Bread, rice, pasta or cereals
  • Milk, cheese, yoghurt
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Meat, fish, eggs, lentils, nuts or beans

It can be fun experimenting with new and different types of food if you have the time, and cooking does not have to be expensive. Food costs vary. As a rule, supermarkets will be cheaper than the corner shop and street markets will be cheaper than supermarkets. Vegetables that are in season (that is, grown locally and available without being stored or imported) are usually a cheap source of food.

When preparing food, keep in mind that it is important to take some simple steps to avoid food poisoning (caused by different sorts of bacteria):

  • Put chilled and frozen food in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible
  • Prepare and store raw and cooked food separately
  • Make sure the coldest part of the fridge is below 5°C
  • Use food before the ‘use by’ date
  • Keep animals away from food
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food and especially after going to the toilet
  • Keep your kitchen clean
  • Defrost and cook food thoroughly especially eggs, poultry and meat

If sometimes you do not have the time or inclination to cook for yourself, a meal at your institution or student union refectory will probably be the cheapest alternative. Restaurants can be expensive, although local cafes can be good value for money.

The ‘Common Cold’

The common cold is caused by a virus that irritates the nose and throat, causing sneezing and coughing. It is a very common illness in the winter months. There is no effective cure for the common cold. However, getting plenty of rest, and drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and fruit juices, will aid recovery. A cold will usually pass after a few days. However, if symptoms get worse, or the cold lasts for a long time, you should consult your GP.

Many British people continue to work or attend classes when they have a cold. You may recover more quickly, and reduce the risk of passing on the virus to fellow students, if you stay in bed and do not attend classes until you are feeling better – but don’t forget to tell the school administrator or a member of the administration staff that you are ill, this can be by telephone, email or text message to the emergency number..

National Health Service (NHS)


Tel: 111 (free from mobiles and landlines, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; tell the operator if you need an interpreter)

Typetalk or Text phone: 10001 111 (for the deaf and hard of hearing

Other health-related contacts

Meningitis: Meningitis Research Foundation

24 Hour meningitis helpline: Tel: 0808 800 3344 (Freephone) – operated by trained staff and nurses 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


Health insurance

Endsleigh Insurance Services Ltd