Let’s Talk Bills – an International Student’s Guide to Council Tax, Living Costs, and Managing your Money

Knowing how to manage your money is a key part of being a successful student, whether you’re coming from another country or not.

However, if you’re not used to the currency and living costs are drastically different to the way things are back home, living in the UK could be financial culture shock.

Here’s our guide to council tax, living costs, and managing your money as an international student in the UK:

Do I need to pay Council Tax?

Council Tax is set by the local authorities in England and pays for services they provide, such as refuse collection, the fire brigade, and the police.

How much each household pays is based on the value of the house, flat, or other accommodation you live in.

However, not everyone has to pay Council Tax and certain groups are exempt from it.

The following information comes from the UK Council for International Student Affairs:

Many students’ “dwellings” are exempt from the Council Tax:

  • Accommodation provided by the university or college that is occupied only or mainly by students (for example, a hall of residence or student house)
  • Other dwellings (for example, a privately rented flat) occupied only by students
  • Other dwellings occupied only by students and their dependants, who are not British citizens, and are prevented, by the terms of their UK immigration permission, from taking paid employment or from claiming benefits (for example a spouse with PBS dependant leave that has a condition that they have no recourse to public funds

A dwelling is not exempt if you are living with your non-student spouse, civil partner or adult dependant, and they are:

  • an EEA or Swiss national, or the family member of an EEA or Swiss national, who is exercising a right of free movement in the UK, or
  • a British citizen, or
  • settled in the UK (with indefinite leave to enter or remain).

If your dwelling is not exempt, there will be a bill. If you are exempt, you will need to provide the council with your matriculation number, proof of your student status and copies of  your partner/spouse/adult dependent's and your own passport details and current visa.

How do I set up a student bank account in the UK?

It’s obviously important to for you to be able to access your money whilst living in the UK to be able to pay bills, buy food, and cover other living costs.

The majority of UK banks offer student bank accounts and there are a number of UK banks which offer accounts designed specifically for international students.

To open a bank account in the UK you will need the following:

  • your passport or UK driving licence
  • a letter from your university confirming your attendance
  • evidence of your UK address (tenancy agreement, utility bill etc.)

Some banks may also want proof of your address in your home country, but this will be made clear to you when you apply for the account.

What are living costs like in the UK?

Whilst the UK probably isn’t the cheapest place to live and study in the world, it’s also not the most expensive and there are plenty of ways you can keep costs low as a student.

On average, living costs for international students in the UK are around £5000 to £8000 per year. Although this does depend which part of the country you live in and how luxurious your lifestyle is.

Here are our top money management tips for international students:

First things first, you can use the International Student Calculator to help you work out a budget for living in the UK and for managing your money once you get here.

Student discounts are common and easy to get. For example, you can buy an NUS Extra card to get thousands of discounts and this now comes with a year’s free ISIC so you can keep saving when you travel home or to other countries.

Other useful money saving purchases include a 16-25 Rail Card or Young Persons Coach Card if you’re going to be travelling by train or coach a lot.