International Students Guide

Full credit to be given to Amélia Tortell Milhano, Anlin Chen, the SU International Campaign, and all other student volunteers that helped put it together.

Disclaimer: This guide has been complied by current Oxford Students and to the best of their knowledge, is accurate. However there may have been changes since publication. If you would like current advice about the information here or any welfare issue, please contact advice@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk

Becoming an international student can be daunting, and we hope that this guide should answer any questions or concerns you might have as the beginning of term approaches and make the transition less daunting.

Before Arriving

Visa Application

Apply as early as possible for a Visa because you don’t know how long you’ll need to wait. If you have questions, ask the university staff who gave you visa application instructions. They are often more helpful than the UK Visas and Immigration’s paid services.

Coronavirus-specific visa application help pages:

Visa application steps from Oxford’s website:

Full guide with other info from gov.uk:

Packing

  • Do pack light! You'll have to transport whatever you bring from the airport, on and off buses/trains, and around college until you get to your room. Packing light makes your life easier, and it costs less to bring less suitcases on the plane.
  • Pack clothes that are appropriate for English weather (i.e. always grey and raining). It can feel colder than you expect in Oxford, and somehow, it is ALWAYS raining! Also, the heating in some accommodation can not be too great. Therefore, remember to bring lots of warm clothes (sweaters, coats, socks, shoes and blanket for your bed.)
  • If you're not flying home between terms, do bring some summer clothes. The weather rarely goes above 25 degrees, but still be prepared for some sunny days.
  • Bring adaptors or cables with U.K. plugs (you can buy these in Oxford, but it is good to bring one for your phone in case shops aren't open when you first arrive).
  • Bring some cash for the first weeks.
  • Bring enough of any medication you have prescribed to last the whole term as prescriptions can’t be used internationally.
  • You may want to bring some stationery from home, as some students have noted that this is particularly expensive to buy in Oxford.
  • Most colleges provide duvets, pillows, and sheets, and since they take up so much space in the suitcase, it’s best not to bring these over from home. If you do decide to bring them though, use them to line your suitcase, so they should not take up too much space.
  • Most essentials can be bought in Oxford (and then stored there during the holidays). For example: towels, sheets (if you don't use the ones provided by college), hangers, toiletries, stationery and kitchen stuff can all be bought after you arrive.
  • Bring masks and hand sanitiser (especially if you will need to quarantine). You will need these for the journey to Oxford and most likely around college.
  • Lastly, bring things that make you happy! (it’s not at all a waste of space.) This could be pictures from home food you can't buy in the UK, an instrument you play etc.

Facebook

Facebook is really important before going to Oxford University, even though it is often not used to socialise in lots of other countries.

It is worth making sure you have an account up and are on your JCR pages before you arrive, as you find it is the most common used way to stay connected at University.

Getting to Oxford

If you can get to Oxford early, it is recommended that you get as early as you can. Jetlag can be a pain, and it also may take time to adjust to a new country. You may need some time to get used to the new food and lifestyle, before bringing the studying element in it. Also, now there is the self-isolation requirement of 14 days now for international students unless you come from one of these countries (see more about Quarantine later on.)

Also note, that the term dates on the university website are not necessarily the dates that you are expected to be in Oxford. It is important to check with your college information about when they expect you to be there.

Airports

Heathrow

Flying into Heathrow is the quickest and most direct way to get to Oxford. The Oxford Bus Company has a regular direct bus (theAirline) from all Heathrow terminals into Oxford. The trip takes about an hour but is very dependent on traffic.

Gatwick

Often, flights to Gatwick can be cheaper than to Heathrow. However, make sure you consider the extra cost and time of getting from Gatwick to Oxford. The Oxford Bus Company also runs direct buses from Gatwick. The journey, however, can take between 2 and 2.5 hours.

Other airports

You might have to fly into another airport in London. It is possible to get to Oxford from Stansted, Luton and London City Airport, however the journeys are much longer and less direct. For these reasons, it is easiest flying into Heathrow or Gatwick.

Transport from the Airport to college

Airline bus is quite good and is direct to Oxford: https://airline.oxfordbus.co.uk/stops/. You can reserve bus tickets online beforehand, but if you are worried about having a delayed flight, the buses are rarely full, and you can buy your ticket on the bus.

If you are going back home at the end of term, it's worth getting a ‘period return’ ticket (basically a 2-way ticket that lasts 3 months) to save money.

Trains can offer a more comfortable journey, but there is no direct line from the airport to Oxford, so you will have to make at least one change. This might be difficult depending on how much luggage you have. It is also more expensive, so its recommended to take the bus, but it is still an option!

It is possible to get a taxi straight from some airports to Oxford using the 001 taxi airport transfer service (https://www.001taxis.com/airport-transfers.) Although you generally have to book this service in advance, it may be worth it if you have a lot of luggage and some extra money to spare.

Once you have arrived in Oxford, you may want to get a taxi from the station to the college. There are usually taxis waiting at both Gloucester Green Bus Station and the Train Station. You can also use the 001 app (https://www.001taxis.com/oxford-taxi-app) to call a taxi, or simply ring them.

Once in Oxford

Quarantine

It is likely that you will need to self-isolate when you arrive depending on which country you arrive. Your college will give you specific advice as to how they will accommodate for this. It is important, though, that you have enough things to do in this time, and you are ready for two weeks in isolation.

walletBanking

Once in the UK, it is likely that you are going to want to open a UK bank account as soon as possible.

There are lots of choices for banks to use, with each having their own perks (but the main banks in Oxford are Lloyd, HSBC, NatWest and Barclays.) While it is not worth stressing too much over which bank to use, it is worth considering these different things:

  • How fast/easy/expensive are international transfers?
  • Does the bank offer online banking services?
  • What is the overdraft rate like?
  • Do they offer any "rewards" for joining the bank that interest you (i.e.
  • free rail card, online streaming services, travel insurance...)? (Although these most likely  won’t be any available for international students, so this is also important to check.)
  • Do I have the necessary documentation to open an account?

You will have to make an appointment with the bank to open up the account, and since the first few weeks of term will be very busy, it will be a good idea to ring up and book an appointment beforehand (although with Covid, face-to-face banking may not be possible, so different banks will have different ways of addressing this.)

To open an account, most banks require:

  • Oxford Student Enrolment Certificate OR Proof of Residence (This can be found at evision.ox.ac.uk under Student Record and will need to be stamped by the academic office.)
    • Log on to Student Self Service (evision.ox.ac.uk/), click “My Student Record”, then scroll down to find “Generate enrolment certificate”.
    • Print a few copies of it and bring them to the college registration staff. They will stamp them, and then you’ll be able to use them as proof of attendance.
  • Passport/National ID (with the visa if you need one.)

Monzo, Co-Operative Bank and Revolut are fully-online banks and are often popular with international students due to their ease with converting currencies.

When applying for a bank account, always use exactly how your name looks on your passport/ID. Even if your middle name is placed before your first name on your ID, this can cause so many problems if you put your first name first in both banking and the school system. This does mean that your contact name may be your middle name, if these apply to you, and people may refer to you with the wrong name, but this does allow you to get a bank account and phone number when you arrive.

As opening a bank account can take up to a week, make sure that you bring some British currency to last you for at least a week or more. You will also need cash for initial settling-in costs, such as textbooks and general stuff for your room, that unlike UK students, cannot be brought from home, so budget for this.

You could also consider getting travel cheques or prepaid cards in British pounds from your bank in your country, depending on what is available and which one is cheaper.

It may take longer than a week to set up a bank account, so it is recommended to get this done as soon as you reach Oxford, even if it means missing parts of Freshers week. If something does go wrong with this, you may need to use your debit card from home (which would end up being very expensive.)

Getting a SIM Card

You may want a UK phone number for when you're in the UK. It is recommended to do so, although it’s not absolutely necessary.

You have a couple options with how you can pay:

Pay-as-you-go SIM: With this kind of contract, you pay once a month, but with no commitment. Easy to cancel and pick back up between terms, making it a good option if you don't plan on using your UK SIM while away from Oxford. But you may need to go back to your network's shop each month to renew the SIM, which can be incredibly impractical. There is also the option of topping up credit into your card and use it as you go. E.g. the one offered by Three

Contract: You will have to commit to at least 6 months of continuous payments. It can only be set up once you have a UK bank account but it is good if you also want to buy a new phone as well. Many phone companies offer contract packages where the included data can be used freely in a number of countries (most of Europe and some others). If you live in one of these countries, this could be a really good option for you.

Here is a list of phone companies with shops in Oxford (making them practical choices to choose from):

EE

Website: www.ee.co.uk

Location: Westgate shopping centre, Cornmarket Street

Opinion: Pretty good reception across Oxford.

GiffGaff

Website: www.giffgaff.com

Location: No in-person stores (budget, online derivative of O2)

Opinion: Tends to be more unreliable.

O2

Website: www.o2.co.uk

Location: Clarendon Centre, Templars Square (Cowley)

Opinion: The Pay-as-you-go contract with O2 can be quite complicated to renew.

Three

Website: www.three.co.uk

Location: Westgate shopping centre

Opinion: Pretty good value for money and good reception around Oxford. You can roam in most of Europe and New Zealand with no extra charge!

Vodafone

Website: www.vodafone.co.uk

Location: Cornmarket Street

General opinion: People who use it are usually happy with it. VOXI is also a Vodaphone monthly phone plan, which includes free calls and roaming inside Europe.

Health Care and Insurance

If you are registered for a course lasting at least six months, you are entitled to free healthcare from the NHS (National Health Service). You should be able to register with the college doctors before arriving in Oxford. All the information you will need to do this should be provided by college.

There are also a few well-stocked pharmacies in Oxford in case you need medication. If you have an active prescription, bring enough to last the time you will be in Oxford. You should be able to get a prescription that can be used in the UK from your doctor in Oxford, but this may take time.

Most colleges also have a college nurse which can also be used, but for larger health issues, it is recommended to use your registered GP.

Police Registration

Here is the Oxford Information concerning if you need to register with the police and how to do so: https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/visa/during/police

Try to book the appointment at least one month before you arrive. The spots fill up very quickly. But don’t worry too much about it, you just need to do it before you leave the UK for the vac (you need it when you re-enter.)

Getting Around in Oxford

Oxford is really small, or at least Oxford where the university buildings are, and therefore it is really easy to walk around it.

However, a lot of students get bikes in Oxford, although it is worth making sure you are comfortable riding a bike before using it on the Oxford roads.

If you are interested in getting a bike, there are bike selling Facebook pages to get a cheaper, pre-used bike on. It is also worth checking if your JCR has any bike schemes or anything to make this easier for you.

Bike theft is also common in Oxford, so remember to always lock up your bikes if you leave it somewhere. It also worth registering your bike with the University Cycle Registration Scheme (https://travel.web.ox.ac.uk/bike/security#collapse1004021) because it is much easier to find your bike if it is registered.

Where to buy things

While Amazon may seem like an easy option for buying things, it may be worth considering other shops that are more ethical sources. That being said, if you are to use Amazon, activate your Amazon Prime student trial when you arrive and use that to order things that you did not bring from home.

Also, it is worth downloading UniDays, which has loads of discounts for all sorts of stores and restaurants, which is really great if you are on a budget.

Here are options for local shops where you should be able to get everything that Amazon can offer

Grocery Stores

Tesco: The only supermarket you need to be honest. It is cheaper than Sainsbury’s and pretty central on Magdalen Street.

Sainsbury’s: Most people only go here when Tesco is closed. Some people prefer their bakery stuff but honestly subjective. The one at Westgate is pretty big if you just want a change though!

The Co-Op: There are 2 in Jericho, but generally more expensive and less choice than Tescos.

ALDI: If you’d like to save some money there is an ALDI down Botley Road (past the train station).

M&S: Much pricier but good if you want to treat yourself to some gourmet groceries.

Waitrose: Similar to M&S, Waitrose is a bit more upmarket. Just like ALDI, it is located on Botley Road.

OxUnboxed: A no-packaging store in Jericho with a lot of cupboard basics.

Household/electronics

Robert Dyas: Outside the Westgate shopping centre. Good place to buy adapters, extension cords, batteries etc. Also has some kitchen and laundry items.

Westgate: There are LOTS of shops in Westgate and you could probably find most things somewhere here.

TK Maxx: In the Clarendon Centre. Has a completely random array of things (clothes, kitchen appliances, biscuits!) so might not have what you are looking for, but if it does, it will be for an amazing price!

Stationary

Ryman: Outside Westgate

WHSmith: On Cornmarket Street

Pharmacies/Drugstores:

Woodstock Road Chemist: Right across the road from St Anne’s.

Boots: On Cornmarket Street, and is a massive drugstore with everything that you should need in terms of medicine and toiletries (shampoo, hand sanitiser, hair brushes, etc.) Boots is also really good for small, but necessary things that you might not think about (such as umbrellas or batteries.)

Brexit

The impact of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union should not affect your studies. If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss student, you will have to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to be able to remain in the UK after June 30th 2021.

This is quite simple and nothing to worry about. However, It is advised to get the relevant documentation, as well as applying as soon as possible, given that the waiting times can be significant.

The following website (https://www.gov.uk/eusettledstatus) walks you through all the necessary steps.

Food

One of the things that many international students miss the most is the food, especially as finding non-British food in supermarkets in the UK can be very difficult.

It is recommended that you bring food with you, especially to help with the adjustment in the first few weeks, and can even be shared with new friends you meet!

Below are a few places where you may be able to find some uncommon ingredients/food in:

  • Baltic food (Cowley Road)

  • Euro Supermarket (Cowley Road)

  • Lung Wah Chong (near the train station)

  • Seoul Plaza (Cowley Road)

  • Skogen Kitchen (off High Street)

  • Il Principe (Cowley Road)

  • Gloucester Green Market (often has pop-up stands with food from all over the world)

  • GG Oriental Snack Shack: arguably has a wider range of snacks than Lung Wah Chong.

(Cowley is a good place to start if you are trying to find some food from home.)

Cafes:

  • Waterstones Cafe: the cafe is on the top floor. Can be quite full, but very nice service and conveniently central.

  • Pret a Manger: There are two on Cornmarket Street and one in Westgate! They give you 50p off any drink if you bring your own cup, and the sandwiches are nice! 

Restaurants:

  • Pierre Victoire: a cute, French-style restaurant down Little Clarendon Street. Make sure to make a reservation ahead of time.

  • Sushi Mania: very affordable Japanese restaurant. 50% off between 12-3pm and after 10pm!

  • Bbuona: bespoke Italian restaurant. Very nice pizza. If in small groups, you should be fine to just rock up.

  • Sojo: has a great dimsum set.

  • Thaikhun: has good Thai food but is more expensive than other Thai restaurants like Angrid Thai.

  • COSMO World Buffet: probably has the most extensive international spread and is much cheaper for lunch than dinner because they don’t have hotplate station for lunch.

  • Fusion House: Authentic Chinese takeaway place.

Societies

Societies are a great way to find others with the same cultural background as you! Most countries or regions have a society, and you can find the full list on the student union website.

There is also a university wide International Society.

But also do not be put off meeting new people with different nationalities! Even if it feels safe and nice to have friends from your home country who will understand why you think the way you do, many international students have found it rewarding meeting people who have massively different backgrounds. Joining societies of anything you are interested in in Freshers can be a really good way to expand your social network (as well as getting involved in Freshers’ Events, and talking to people on your course.)

Welfare Support

Moving to university is never an easy task, and as an international student it can feel much harder to settle in. Whether you are struggling with adjusting to a new language, home sickness, culture shocks, loneliness or anything else, the college will have support for you.

You will be given information about general welfare support available at the university, such as the counselling service and Disabilities Service, when you arrive (and the information can also be found online.)

Many colleges have international reps on the JCR, which are always available for a chat, and all colleges should have welfare reps to help guide you through getting help at the university and be a listening ear.

It is also worth reaching out to other international students since the likelihood is, what you are going through, they would be experiencing or would have experienced before.

Between terms

International Storage

Fortunately, you shouldn’t have to bring all of your stuff back over the holidays, but each college has its own policy and system for this.

Most of the time, anything left in storage need to be in your own boxes or suitcases so no plastic bags or anything like that. You can get cardboard boxes from Amazon or buy decently cheap plastic ones (which you can use again) at ARGOS (they have a shop near Westgate.

This is something that is worth checking before arriving, to come up with a plan in terms of international storage.

Vacation Residence

The system for this changes on a college-by-college basis, so it is worth checking with your college whether you would be able to get vacation residence.