I’m not even here for a full year!

1 December 2022

Doing an exchange presents some challenges but also provides great opportunities.

calendar being rubbed out

An affiliate = an exchange student. A student from another university, studying at UCL for either 1 term, 2 terms or for a whole academic year.

*the more spice you put in the same-sized dish, the more your tongue is going to feel it".

This leads nicely onto me talking about how affiliate/exchange students experience a similar range of experiences and emotions as a full-degree student, but in a much smaller timeframe...did the analogy not work for you either..?

This is to take nothing away from someone in the middle of a 3-year undergraduate course or a 1-year postgraduate taught course, but at least when you start these courses, you tend to do so with a large number of other people; sharing the same emotions and discovering the same things.

For affiliates starting in January, this almost certainly isn’t the case, but although we want to acknowledge that you are in a unique situation, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have an amazing time.

This article is going to assume that you have sorted your accommodation; whether that be with UCL or private accommodation. If not, then don’t worry, UCL Accommodation has all the information you need about their services as well as details on how to contact them and we also have information on alternative accommodation providers in London.

First things first:

Visa and immigration

Your immigration status and thus the visa you will need (or not need) mainly depends on two criteria; where you are from and how long you will be here for.

If you’re coming to UCL for less than 6 months, it will most likely be on a Standard Visitor Visa or as a non-visa national.

If you’re coming to UCL for more than 6 months, it will most likely be on a Student Visa.

We have a dedicated visa and immigration team with great experience in supporting students coming to UCL from all over the world. If you are unsure of what you’ll need to do, contact them!

Their job is to support you, answer your questions and make the process of entering the U.K as seamless as they can.


Closely linked to your immigration status will be your healthcare.

It’s important to remember that in the UK, public healthcare in the form of the National Health Service (NHS), dominates. Amongst British citizens, knowledge of private healthcare is not widespread as so few people use it. Now this doesn't mean that there isn't a sophisticated private healthcare system in the U.K which serves both Brits and international people every single day, but it means that if you ask the average Brit about private heathcare, you'll most likely get an in ill-informed response.

Private health insurance

If you are in the U.K for less than 6 months’ time, then it is likely you will need to have private health insurance covering your time here. This may be provided by your home university or you may have to arrange this yourself.

You will be able to register with a GP (doctor) for free as a temporary patient for 3 months. Visiting the GP is free but specialist treatment such as seeing an eye specialist or an operation would need to be covered by your private health insurance plan. It would not be provided free by the U.K National Health Service (NHS).

Prescriptions (medication), dental care and opticians (glasses/contact lenses) will vary in cost depending on what private health insurance plan you have. In the case of prescriptions, we advise students here for less than 6 months' to bring a supply of their prescripted medication to cover their time here.

As you can see, it’s really important that if you will be living in the UK on private health insurance, you understand what your plan covers. UCL cannot tell you this as plans can vary between each student.

Public health care

If you are in the UK for more than 6 months, then you will likely have paid the Immigration Health Surcharge which entitles you to the same level of public healthcare as a UK citizen. This means you can register with a GP as a permanent patient for free. Visiting a GP is free as is any specialist care your GP refers you for e.g., seeing an eye specialist or having an operation.   

Prescriptions (medication) will cost £9.35 per refill. Dental care is subsidised by the NHS and will cost less than fully private dental care. Opticians (glasses/contact lenses) are not covered or subsidised by the NHS.

For a full-breakdown of what is covered (it’s most things), check out the NHS website.  

For everyone, regardless of how long they are in the UK

Emergency medical care such as going in an ambulance because you broke your leg, is free for everyone in the U.K, regardless or how long you are here for and what visa you hold (or don’t hold).

Registering with a GP as either a temporary or permanent patient is free and we always strongly advise that students do this.

Working in the U.K

On the face of it, the rules are pretty simple as regards working in the U.K.

If you are arriving at UCL in 2023 and have a Student Visa, then you will almost certainly have the right to work in the U.K.

If you are arriving at UCL in 2023 on either a Standard Visitor Visa or you are a non-visa national and you will be in the U.K for less than 6 months, then you almost certainly will not have the right to work in the U.K.

Why do we say “almost certainly”, because there is usually an exception to the rule and we don’t want to issue a blanket statement which leaves 0.05% of cases out. If you’ve been issued a visa, it will state whether you have the right to work or not. If you don’t have a visa, and are not British, then you probably can’t work here. Remember, if you’re ever in doubt, contact UCL’s visa and immigration team.

This leaves the inevitable questions of “well, can I work online for a company back in my home country?” If you have the right to work in the U.K, then yes. If you don’t, then no. If you are physically in the U.K, then you are bound by the conditions of your visa.

Remember that you’ve come to UCL to study and gain experience at one of the world’s top universities. You presumably haven’t come here to make money. If that were the case…shock…you’d have stayed home.

We’ve got more details on the right to work the U.K so do check them out for further clarity.

For those of you who will have the right to work, check out some of the great opportunities available on our website.


Banking has changed a lot around the world and the UK is no exception. 10 years ago, bank account eligibility was very strict and didn’t often take into account people who were going to be in the U.K for less than 6 months. The system pushed these people to bring over large quantities of cash or use things like pre-paid cards or things like travellers cheques.

Thankfully, the world has moved on from this and students in London for less than 6 months have the option of opening a UK bank account or accessing money from their home country electronically.

Digital banks started to become popular in the U.K from 2015 onwards; due in part to them appealing to younger more digitally savvy customers. They also understood that some people are not in the U.K for a whole year but still need to regularly access money and pay for things in the U.K.

High street banks took notice of this and over the years made opening a bank account a little easier if you are in the U.K for less than 6 months.

Many banks will also let you add your home country’s bank account details to their app, allowing to transfer money easily and cheaply between the two or even letting you just pay for things in the U.K straight from your home bank account without charge.

Definitely worth doing a little research on banks and deciding which one suits you the most.      

Academic support

Now we understand that some of you will be coming to UCL having already completed a full year or even 2 full years of university life back in your home country. You will have already gone through that period of adjusting to the world-load and style at university compared to secondary school (high school).

But the U.K higher education will almost certainly be different to the one you’re used to. This means that you may still have some questions or issues during your time here and we want to make sure that you know who to turn to, if that’s the case.

Every affiliate who comes to UCL is assigned an affiliate tutor. An affiliate tutor is able to offer support in both academic and non-academic matters and is certainly worth getting to know, even if you are here for less than a year.

(the link takes you to personal tutors but the role is very similar)

The Academic Communication Centre (ACC) offers support for students based on their level of study and their course. This makes it a great resource as it’s bespoke to your situation.

English language support can be provided through the ACC but also through the Students’ Union Language + Writing Support Programme.   

As with other services, such as those concerning mental health and wellbeing, these shouldn’t be used as a last resort. “oh sh*t, things aren’t going well at all, better try one of these out!” Engage with them early on and it is almost certainly going to improve your work.

Most affiliate students will also have a meeting with their UCL department called, quite appropriately, Meet Your Department. You'll be able to meet your professors and also any other affiliate students on your course. There's no guarantee your department will be running a Meet Your Department event, but if they are, definitely go. 

Mental health and wellbeing services

In a similar vein to academic support, mental health and wellbeing support shouldn’t be seen as a last resort. In the same way you’d pay regular attention to your physical health, take time to ensure your wellbeing in in check. UCL has a superb team of mental health and wellbeing advisers you can speak with as well as a ton of great resources to help you in your own time.

Joining a new university, in a foreign country, when you don’t know anyone, in the middle of winter when it’s light for only 8 hours a day can certainly test someone’s resolve. But know that 1,000s of students have done it before and created some absolutely wonderful memories. Know that we are here to support you with whatever issues or questions you may have and that 8 hours a day quickly becomes 18.    

Making friends

Now this is the most subjective of the lot by far. So much of this depends on what kind of personality you have.

Whether you are the sort of person who confidently walks into a lecture theatre, sits next to a group of strangers and starts chatting or whether you are the person who sits at the back of the room half-praying that no one sits next to you.

Now, if you are the former, then you probably don’t need much advice about this but if you are the latter, a little advice might just help.

Clubs and societies are genuinely the best way to meet people. You don’t have to think of a reason to engage with people or make up some bullsh*t reason for asking someone a question. You’ve all joined because you share a common interest. Now before you ask, there isn’t an affiliate student society. The problem with that is that clubs/societies are run by students and with the affiliate turnover being so frequent…well…you get it. However, there are still over 360 options for you to choose from.

As well as that, we also have an affiliate student mixer event taking place in the first week of term. This is literally a room with free tea and coffee, for you to come along to and meet other affiliates. It’s a no-brainer right? You don’t need to feel awkward about it, just book your free ticket using the button below and turn up. At the least, you can get a free drink and say “hi”, but….then someone says “hi” back, have a chat about where you’re from and before you know it, you’re chatting about the pros and cons of populism or whatever it is that affiliates like talking about.

Affiliates who arrived in September are also invited so you’ll have a mix of people who’ve been here a few months and newbies. Why wouldn’t you come?!

Affiliate student mixer

Where can I get more information?

There are a wide range of places for you to get more information, both before you arrive and once you arrive.

The International Student Orientation Webinars give you a chance to ask questions before you arrive at UCL and have them answered straight away by a member of the UCL International Student Support team and a current international UCL student.

International Student Orientation Webinars

The International Student Online Orientation Course breaks down a lot of the information you'll need into easy, management sections. Check it out, dip in and out. You don't need to complete all of it but it's absolutely worth looking at because you will learn a huge amount of what to expect when you arrive at UCL.

International Student Online Orientation Course

Nothing is more important than the safety of our students. The International Student Safety Seminar is a collaboration between UCL and the London Metropolitan Police and gives you the chance to hear from a London police officer about how to stay safe during your time here. Really really worth while coming to this! 

International Student Safety Seminar

Once you've arrived, you're still going to have questions. askUCL allows you to ask a question and have the correct UCL team answer your question as soon as possible. Simple! You'll get access to askUCL once you have completed pre-enrolment.