Studying and Living in...The United Kingdom

This week, Science's Next Wave, in collaboration with one of Europe's top research organizations, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), will start publishing a series of articles providing detailed travel information that will help you successfully plan your research career in an increasingly mobile scientific community.

The "Survival Package UK" article published below was originally created to serve EMBO long term fellows. We have modified the original article to include up-to-date information that is accurate to the best of our knowledge; however, neither EMBO nor Science's Next Wave can be held liable for any possible misinformation, expressed view, or opinion stated herein.

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Facts || Accommodation || Health matters || Banking and investments || Legal Advice || Transport


  • Language: English

  • Currency: Pounds and pence (£ - p) £1 = 100p = 1.67 Euro at time of publication. See: for up-to-date exchange rates.

  • Measures:

    • Distance: Miles (on roads 1M = 1.6km), meters,

      feet (1ft = 12inches = 30cm), yards (1yd = 3ft = 0.9m)

    • Volumes: Pints (1pt = 568mL), gallons (1gal = 8pts), litres

    • Weights: Pounds (1lb = 450g), ounces (1lb = 16oz),

      stone (for human weights - 1st = 14lb), kg



The UK has a very well developed market in fully furnished accommodation. Many young people prefer this option. However, people tend to buy their own property earlier than, for instance, in Germany. The market in unfurnished accommodation is somewhat smaller. Accommodation advertisements usually list the number and type of rooms (unlike German adverts, which might say 2 1/2 rooms, meaning 2 bedrooms and 1/2 a living room; bathroom and kitchen not mentioned but implicitly included). Floor areas are rarely given; vague adjectives like "roomy" suffice instead. But think yourself lucky; they could use square feet!

Rent is payable one month in advance, together with a deposit, usually of no more than one month's rent. If a standard short-hold tenancy agreement is in place, you are guaranteed occupancy for 6 months (a period of 2 months notice is required at 4 months). After 6 months, the period of notice on both sides is 1 month.


In general the north of the country is cheaper than the south. London, unsurprisingly, is most expensive, but other places in the Southeast--Cambridge, for example--come close. (Oxford is not cheap either, incidentally.) Council Tax (what one pays for maintenance of community utilities, resources and facilities) is often payable in addition to rent, so find out what tax band the property is in to check your additional liability. Students living alone, or with a group of other students, do not pay Council Tax. Electricity and gas are not usually included.

Try to get hold of a local paper or find a relevant Web site to get an idea of property prices in the area you?re heading for. Fish4Homes covers the whole country and includes both rental and sale properties.

Area by Area - London -

In general, expensive areas include Kensington, South Kensington, Knightsbridge, anywhere in the West End and "City", Ealing, Hampstead, West Hampstead (though if house sharing, bargains can be found here), and the Docklands.

Cheaper areas include Acton, Neasden, Northeast London, most districts south of the river (Richmond can be recommended), and especially Southeast. A particularly pleasant (and reasonably priced) district, with good tube (Central line) and road (A40) connections to the West and Northwest of London is Ruislip.

Generally nearness of an underground ("tube") station increases the price. But, bear in mind that journey times in London are a real consideration when choosing where to live. It is often worth paying a little more to be closer to an underground line. Try not to live in an outlying district with bad "tube" connections such that you have to use a car to get to work; once you hit the main arteries into and around London your average speed will drop to around 6 km per hour! (And frustration and stress, not to mention pollution, can shorten your life).

The classified advertisement publication "LOOT" ( contains a lot of property to rent. The newest adverts are available either by buying the paper edition or by subscribing to the electronic one. Older ads (2 days old) are free to view on-line. Property often disappears within a morning of appearing, so get your skates on! You could also try ARLA for contact details of some London?s estate agents.

- Oxford and Cambridge -

Prices are generally similar to lower-range London prices.


Preferred areas include the City Centre; Jericho (very studenty--lots of places to eat, and a cinema to boot); Headington (a good area and close to the John Radcliffe hospital, so popular with medics); Summertown (very popular with students). Temple Cowley and Iffley are very nice but a bit out of town (15 min by bus); East Oxford is not recommended.


"Nice" areas include Chesterton Road (expensive in the Defreville Road area); Huntingdon Road; Newnham; some parts of Mill Road; and Sturton Street. For proximity to the MRC-LMB, try Trumpington Street, Trumpington, Hills Road, and Coleridge Road. Avoid Arbury. Check out the property pages of the Cambridge Evening News for prices.

- West Country -

Expect prices similar to Oxford in Bath and parts of Bristol.

- Midlands, North and Scotland -

Expect quite a range of prices, depending on proximity to towns. It is well worth considering accommodation in one of the many pleasant small villages outside the larger towns in the midlands and north (especially idyllic around Manchester and Nottingham).

Health matters

National Health Service (NHS)

The National Health Service provides free or subsidised treatment to all British nationals. Treatment of EU nationals on the NHS is covered by reciprocal arrangements between EU states. Please contact your social security department or equivalent before leaving.

Private health insurance

Most firms and large institutes suggest or compel their employees to join a company health insurance scheme. Waiting lists in the NHS are long, and if one needs short notice minor treatment (e.g., extraction of a troublesome wisdom tooth) it is better done privately. Your host institute should provide you with information on health insurance. Two popular companies are:

BUPA International

BUPA House, 15-19 Bloomsbury Way

London WC1A 2BA


Tel: [44](171) 656-2397

Fax: [44](171) 656-2727

PPP Healthcare

Phillips House, Crescent Road

Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 2PL


Tel: +44 1892 772002

Fax: +44 1892 772336


Banking and investments


Setting up a current account (for everyday use) is simple and fast. You will get a cash card (which also works as a cheque guarantee card and debit card in many stores), and a cheque book--all within a few days. Cheques are still a very popular way of paying for things. Rest assured, if anything is accepted, it is a cheque. But don't forget your cheque guarantee card! Paying for things using a debit card doesn't require your personal identification number (PIN), just a signature, so don't lose the card, because it's very easy for someone else to use it!! Electronic cash ("cash on a card") is not yet very popular/even in existence, and don't expect to be able to pay for things with an EC card (although Eurocheques might be accepted).

Most banks have free-of-charge reciprocal arrangements with cash automats (ATM automatic teller machine) from other banks, hence allowing better coverage. Cheques generally take up to 5 working days to clear, but most banks will allow you to draw cash on a cheque before it is officially cleared. Statements of account can be issued every month, or less frequently if you wish. Mini statements can be printed from ATMs belonging to your own bank. Overdrafts should be arranged beforehand, but small unintentional temporary overdrafts on the order of 75 Euro will usually not incur a penalty.


The credit card is very popular in the UK. Many people do all their grocery shopping and pay for petrol by credit. In general, itemised credit card bills are sent to the account holder every month. Payment of the whole amount by the date shown avoids the interest charge; if not paid on time, one month's interest is charged on the whole amount outstanding. As elsewhere, credit cards can be used to draw cash at automats, but a penalty is payable.


The UK is possibly the best place in Europe for financial services, arguably having the most highly developed investment structures (London is still financial capital of Europe). However, the range of services in itself can be a problem. Interest rates on savings in building societies (and banks) are higher than elsewhere in Europe, and in the short term it would be easy and wise to set up a postal account to get a small amount of your money earning interest.

Unit trusts (an easy, relatively risk free, way to invest in stocks and shares via the bulk buying activities of the unit trust company) are very popular as medium to long term investments. Many banks have their own share dealing services if you feel like a spin on the wheel of fortune. Banks rarely offer critical advice; for that, one should consult an independent financial advisor or read the Financial Times.

Legal Advice

A particularly good site to visit is This site gives legal rights advice from the EU for citizens moving from one member country to another, including information on residency, driving licenses, and motor insurance. You can select your country of origin followed by your destination and read the information in your own language.

Getting around (transport)


Trains, buses and coach services connect all the large and medium sized cities and towns. They increase in reliability and punctuality in the order given. Train and bus services are privatised, so the names (and reliability) of the services change from region to region. The tracks on which the trains run are owned by a different company! The Railtrack Web site gives details on timetables and fares.

Be warned, though, that the UK has problems with train reliability and punctuality. Public transport is significantly more expensive than the European average. In general, public transport is more expensive in the provinces, but relatively cheap in the larger cities, especially London. London Transport travelcards are valid on underground, bus and urban trains. A carnet of 10 tickets can also be bought for use on central zone journeys. See the London Transport website for details.

Private (your very own metal box on wheels)

If you have a decent (reliable) car and have no problems keeping it insured via your original insurer (i.e., they will still insure you abroad indefinitely) then keep it that way. If your insurer won't continue to insure you, you will have to have your car re-registered with a UK number plate, have an MOT - safety test - done, and register with the DVLA - department of vehicle licensing (see

Buying a car in the UK is not advisable; they cost up to 50% more there than in the rest of Europe (on average). Also, though it might be an advantage to have right-hand-drive, bear in mind that only a quarter of the world drives on the left, mostly old British colonies (Japan is an exception to the colony rule). For an explanation of why the British drive on the left, see

Good luck on your travels!

For additional information, you might also like to take a look at the advice the Marie Curie Fellowship Association provides to new Fellows moving to the UK.

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