Cost of living in London
The cost of living in London will depend on your lifestyle. We recommend using Numbeo for up-to-date information on costs of living.
Accommodation and transport will be the biggest costs. Eating in by buying and preparing your own food will save you a lot of money.
We would recommend getting a UK sim card whilst in the UK to avoid high bills and roaming charges. There are plenty of options and providers to choose from. A pre-paid SIM card might be the easiest one to go for if you’re looking to get a phone connection quickly. Once you have one, you can either top-up in a phone shop, at a supermarket, online or directly via your phone.
There are many pay as you go options as well as 30 day contracts. Some will require you to have a UK bank account before you can apply. But others will accept up cards or one off payments. We would recommend Giff Gaff for the most flexibility.
Some of the most popular providers in the UK include in no particular order EE, o2, Giffgaff, Three, Vodafone.
Banking & Money
One of the first things that you should do after arriving is to set up a bank account if you don’t already have one. Most banks and building societies will expect you to have a UK address before opening an account. Northeastern University London will be able to provide a proof of study letter for you. You will be able to request this from Student & Academic Services or, if you are an NU study abroad student, from the Global Experience Administrator.
Most banks will issue a debit card. There are usually no annual charges on maintaining a bank account, unlike some other countries. However, you may be charged commission if using your card abroad or in the case where an ATM states there is a charge to use the service. Generally you can use an ATM to withdraw money and check your balance from any machine (not necessarily your bank’s machine) without incurring a fee.
If you are staying in London for less than 6 months, you will probably not be able to open a normal bank account in which case we would suggest opening an online account. Some of the most popular online banks include: Monzo, Revolut and Monese.
The most used banks in the UK are Nationwide Building Society, Halifax, Barclays, Santander, Lloyds and HSBC. During the past year, due to covid restrictions, many UK banks have allowed customers to open bank accounts without having to go into a branch.
Paying around the UK
Credit cards are widely accepted for ordinary shopping in the UK, in addition to cash. If you need to exchange foreign currency we recommend that you do this in a bank, at the Post Office or at a currency exchange place. Please note that many stores will not accept American Express (Amex).
Tipping in the UK is not as common as it is in other countries.
If you do want to tip someone this is normally 10-12.5%. Most restaurants will have the tip (service charge) already included in the bill.
The current Value Added Tax (VAT) in the UK is 20%. Shops and restaurants will already have the VAT included in their published prices.
The main UK supermarkets are:
- Low price: Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Lidl
- Mid price: Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco
- High end: Marks & Spencer, Waitrose
Halal food is widely found in London, both in supermarkets and smaller shops. These items of food are always clearly marked.
Most supermarkets around London sell international food too; the markets are also a great resource.
London can feel huge and bustling at first, however there are various apps available which will help you to navigate the city and all it has to offer. Check out the following:
Citymapper – A must-have app which makes travelling around London a breeze
Uber – An essential in many cities, Uber is the cheaper alternative to the iconic London black cab
Deliveroo or Uber Eats – A go-to dinner when studying late
Dusk – Explore London and its nightlife by taking advantage of the free drinks and discounts that Dusk offers
Timeout – Find out what’s on in London. Your guide to best food & drink, event, activities and attractions.
London Live Bus Countdown – Plan your journey ahead of time. This app tells you when your next bus will arrive at any bus stop in London using the timing data directly from TfL and other city bus operators.
TFL Go – Use the live map to see your route – or search any place or address across London
If have a TV at home and want to watch British channels, you will need to purchase an annual TV Licence. Check out the TV Licensing website for more information about this.
Currently, TV Licence costs £159 per year.
Students are eligible to claim back for unused months over the summer.
Most places that serve alcohol, such as bars and nightclubs, will request a form of identification for entrance. Accepted forms of ID are usually either your passport or driving licence. Although the legal drinking age in the UK is 18, some bars and venues will hold over 21s evenings and will not allow entry to those under the age of 21.
Smoking in public places in the UK is not permitted. Some bars and clubs will have a designated outdoor smoking area but this varies from place to place.
Be sure to check how to get to a from your event – Public transport can be limited in the early hours of the morning.
Some places will also require a COVID-19 vaccination pass, please make sure to check in advance so you are not caught out.