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The basics
THE UK: Essentials

Essentials: UK customs and airport arrival

Find out what you need to do when you arrive in the UK for the first time, including what documentation you need, planning your journey and dealing with immigration control...

Arriving in the UK - Heathrow

Arriving in a foreign country on your own can be a daunting task; particularly if you’re planning on living abroad for the first time.

Of course, there are a number of things that you can do in advance to make the journey from your home country to your place of study a little less stressful; so here’s everything you need to know about arriving in the UK for the first time.


Arriving in the UK

The UK has several major airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are all in London, while Luton, Manchester and Edinburgh are dotted around the country too. Some smaller towns and cities often have an airport of some sort too but you're probably likely to only use those listed above. You'll then have to take a train/s or a connecting flight to a smaller airport to get to your final destination. If there is no one available to pick you up, most airports have taxi ranks by the exit too.



At UK border control

Before setting off for your journey, you should have double-checked that you have all of the relevant documentation required for your journey. This not only includes your passport and plane tickets, but also your visa documentation. It is important that your visa application has been accepted before you arrive in the country and that you have confirmation of this, otherwise you will not be allowed entry to the UK. You should also have any correspondence with your university, particularly those which confirm your place with them. Just think: 'How would I prove to a stranger that I am who I say I am i.e. a student at said university?'


Need guidance on your application for a student visa? Have a read of our article.


Before collecting your baggage, you will be required to go through immigration control where there will be two queues, the first for EEA, EU and Swiss arrivals and another for everyone else. It is vital that you ensure you join the correct queue in order to prevent delaying your arrival time. If you are a non-EU or non-EEA arrival, then you should be given a landing card which asks for your details including date of birth, gender, nationality and occupation (student). You can get this card before you arrive in the country from your airline operator, and ideally you should fill it out and sign before you arrive at customs.


A border control officer will check your passport and visa documentation. It is important that you not only have the visa documentation, but a letter of acceptance from your chosen place of study, your offer of accommodation, as well as financial documents in hard copy form. Although you will not be asked to sit any tests, the border control officer must be satisfied that you not only speak English fluently, but you understand it without needing an interpreter.


You should have paper versions of all of the above documentation in case the devices you have them on run out of battery. These should be kept on you or in your hand luggage at all times as it is only once you’ve finished with border control that you will be allowed to collect your luggage. Keep these near the top of your hand luggage so they are easily accessible. 


If you are carrying more than £6750 in cash, banker’s draught or cheque, you must declare this. A form will be provided for you to make the declaration, and you will be given a copy of this which you must keep safe for future reference.


Are you sure you've remembered everything? Read our guides, ‘40 Questions international students should ask before they leave’ and our checklist of essential documents to ensure you have everything you need.


And if things go wrong?

More often than not, foreign students manage to navigate customs in the UK without much trouble; but just in case something does go wrong, it is always helpful to be able to contact your place of study so that they can clear up any concerns passport control may have about your time in the UK. 


In the event that the borders officials have a significant problem with your paperwork, most universities will have an advisory centre for foreign students. Without the correct documents you may be refused entry into the UK. Alternatively, you may be given one or two months Leave to Enter.


Of course sometimes there may be some smaller uncontrollable glitches with your journey such as a flight delay, or simply your baggage going missing. If any unavoidable issues do arise during your journey, then the worst thing you can do is panic. The airport staff are there to help you and will be more than happy to help solve any problems that you may have.



Start your journey to studying in the UK - browse popular and highly ranked institutions, read guides and search for courses in the UK.


Read more:

'The British higher education system...simplified'

'Tuition fees in the UK'

'Applying to study in the UK'

'Applying for a UK student visa'

'Student accommodation in the UK'


Study in the UK


'Study in the UK' eBook

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