managing your money as an international student

Page last updated:
08 Oct 2021

Understanding UK money, what costs you need to pay during your studies and how to budget is very important. 

On this page you'll find information about currency and course fees, plus day-to-day things like bank accounts, living costs and paying bills. Keeping a close eye on your finances is a great way to avoid unnecessary stress, allowing you to concentrate on your studies and enjoy your time in the UK to the full.

What currency does the UK use?

The unit of currency in Britain is the pound sterling (£). It is divided into one hundred pence (p). Coins are in values of 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. The notes are in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. Euros are not widely accepted in the UK but are easily exchangeable.

Withdrawal from study

Students withdrawing from their course or programme of study must give immediate written notification at the time of their withdrawal to their school / centre office. Where notification is received after the end of the first semester the student / sponsor will be charged the full annual fee.

What costs can I expect during my studies?

The cost of living in Leeds is lower than in other parts of the UK, particularly London and the south. Don't forget that you'll also get a NUS student discount at many shops, restaurants, cinemas and clubs, and you can also take advantage of the Leeds Card, offering a huge range of benefits for a small annual fee.

It is very difficult to guess how much your living costs will be as we are all very different. However, for a rough indication, see our course fees and living costs page. Remember, even with careful budgeting it can be difficult to control your spending. This particularly true at the beginning of your study in the UK, as you may find the currency a little bit strange and it may take a little bit of getting used to. 

For the most accurate way to calculate your living costs, Which.com have developed an international student calculator to allow you to build your own budget. 

The money you have in the UK may seem like a large amount compared to what you would have had back home – but please be careful. Some things in the UK can cost more and basic essential items might cost far more than you are used to paying in your home country. As a result, you can’t rely on part-time work in the UK to provide you with enough money for your studies / living costs.

Top tip: An International Student Identity card (ISIC) can also give you discounts on national and international travel. Contact the Students' Union at either the Headingley or City Campus for more information about these discount schemes, or visit the NUS or ISIC website.

How do I open a bank account?

International students do not always find it easy to open a bank account in the UK as different banks operate different policies. It is wise to assume that it might take up to two weeks to open an account. Make sure that you have access to a small amount of cash for your immediate needs during this time. However, do not carry large amounts of cash or keep large amounts of cash in your accommodation as there is a risk it could be stolen. If you have access to them, bring travellers cheques or possibly a credit or cash card instead.

Remember that you will be required to provide the following pieces of identification in order to open an account:

  • Your passport
  • A letter from Leeds Beckett University confirming that you are a student
  • A document confirming your UK address (for example a contract for your accommodation).

If you require a letter from the university to open a student bank account, you can visit our Official Letters page for more information and to request a bank letter.

The bank may also require information about your bank account in your home country and proof of your home country address. Please note that your passport will not be accepted as proof of your overseas home address by the bank.

Many international students find that banks do not provide them with an overdraft or loan facilities and will not issue credit or cheque guarantee cards to them. You may also be charged substantial fees for transferring one currency into another. Make sure that your account offers the facility for a tax refund on interest paid to you as an international student. Please note that it may take 10–15 days before your new bank account is fully operational with a printed cheque book, cash card and personal identification number (PIN).

If you are transferring money to the UK by banker’s draft, it is strongly recommended that it is made out in pounds sterling. A draft in another country’s currency can take three to four weeks to clear, leaving you without financial support in that period of time.

Once you have opened a bank account you will receive monthly bank statements. Keep these in a safe place because you will need them in future to support applications to the Home Office for an extension of stay in the UK.

You may also use an internationally acceptable credit card for many payments. If you are enrolling on a course that lasts for six months or less, you may have difficulty in opening an account in the UK. You are strongly advised to contact your local branch in your home country to find out what cards would be best for you to bring with you. Students bringing with them large amounts of US dollars may be able to open a dollar account, changing them into pounds sterling when the exchange rate is favourable.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

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All major banks and some foreign banks are represented in Leeds, and you can open a suitable account at a building society or Post Office. Choose a branch near your place of study.

We cannot recommend which bank to use, but you should find out what services different banks offer and compare them before you open an account. The benefits and costs may vary considerably from one bank to another, so try to find the best deal for you! Ask to speak to the bank’s student adviser and obtain some written information to take away and read. Lloyds TSB and Santander are also present at City Campus during the Freshers Festival to help you set up an international student account if you wish.

The British Banking Association have also provided a useful guide to opening an International student bank account, which you can access through the UKCISA website.

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If you require a letter from the university to open a student bank account, you can visit our Official Letters page for more information and to request a bank letter.

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Unlike in some other countries, the UK’s value added tax (VAT), which is usually around 20%, is added to the price of a product before you purchase it. That means you don’t have to worry about doing any extra adding up at the till – you just pay what the item is priced as.

Council Tax

Council Tax is a local tax payable by householders or tenants. International students on full-time courses living in a hall of residence or in a student-only private household will not have to pay any Council Tax. If your dependants are living with you and are subject to immigration control, they will be exempt from paying Council Tax, as will you, provided there are no other persons sharing with you who are not students. If you are a joint-tenant and share a house with non-students, all tenants will have to share payment of the Council Tax bill, including yourself.

Our university will provide you with a Council Tax exemption certificate. You can access these using the MyBeckett Student Portal. If you live in Leeds you can use the Leeds City Council website to register your exemption or pay your bill. If you live outside of Leeds, you can find your local council on the gov.uk website. 

If you have received a letter from your council, please contact them via phone or through their website. Please ask for advice if you are uncertain of your obligations and rights. You can also access the UKCISA guidance online.

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If you are living in privately rented accommodation, then you will be responsible for paying certain bills. 

  • Gas and Electricity - you will receive bills for these amenities every three months. Rent often includes an amount for water rates but not for gas and electricity. Make sure gas and electricity meters are read on the day you move in. Ensure that all the people sharing the house are named on the bill, not just you. Make arrangements to pay your bills on a monthly budget plan. This will help you budget for the year. For these bills you can contact British Gas and Yorkshire Electricity
  • Water - if water rates are not included with your rent, you will receive a separate bill. The annual charge can usually be paid by eight monthly instalments. You can contact Yorkshire Water by telephoning 0845 1 24 24 24
  • Telephone -  it is important to budget carefully for telephone calls, particularly if you are going to make calls to friends and family who live overseas. Itemised bills have to be paid every three months. A telephone for incoming calls only can help to control expenditure. British Telecom will switch your phone on to this system by request at no extra charge. All these services may be cut off if bills are not paid on time
  • Television Licence - if you want to watch TV in your halls of residence room, or in a flat or house, you MUST get a TV licence. It is illegal to use a television without one and can result in you being taken to court and being fined up to £1,000! If you live in a shared rented house / flat then you may share a TV licence with the people you live with. If you are a lodger or rent a room in a house separately from everyone else, then you must get your own licence. TV licences can be purchased online
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As an international student you are not allowed to use public funds. Under the Immigration Rules ‘public funds’ include the following: Housing and Homelessness Assistance, Attendance Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance, Invalid Care Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Income Support, Working Families Tax Credit, Disabled Person’s Tax Credit, a social fund payment, Council Tax Benefit, Child Benefit, income-based Job Seekers’ Allowance and Housing Benefit.

For more information, you can download the UKCISA guide ‘Welfare Benefits’.

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If you feel like you need to discuss your financial situation with someone, our Money Advice team will be able to assist. You can also talk to the Students' Union or seek advice from the UKCISA guideline on 'Financial Harsdship'.

Contact student immigration advice and compliance

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