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Living & working in the UK

Big Ben
London is a bustling cosmopolitan city, home to people of many cultures, faiths and backgrounds. As well as getting to know London and UK culture, as a student you will need to consider more practical needs, such as banking, insurance and healthcare.

The RCM’s Student Services staff are here to ensure you settle in quickly and make the most of your time in London.

When you first arrive in the UK you may notice differences in the way people behave, speak, eat and dress. It can take a little time to adapt to these differences. The British Council’s Study UK website provides a useful guide to life in the UK specifically for international students. It includes information about the weather, clothing, food and drink, language, religion, etiquette, and information for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.

Visit the British Council's Study UK website

Living costs

We cannot say exactly how much money students need while studying at the RCM. Different students have different needs, preferences and live different lifestyles.

We estimate that most RCM students will need to budget for around £12,500 per year in living costs. Some students need more than this.

Please note, non-UK students who require a Student visa to study in the UK must show they have sufficient funds to support themselves. If you are a Student visa applicant you need to have at least £1,334 per month (£12,006 per academic year) available for living expenses and be able to demonstrate this as part of the visa application process.

We advise all international applicants to budget for additional expenses such as overseas travel. This is particularly useful for getting home in an emergency.

Find out more

Accommodation

The Royal College of Music’s hall of residence, Prince Consort Village, provides high-quality accommodation for just over 400 students in all years of study.

Lots of RCM students choose to live in privately rented accommodation instead. London has a large rental market offering a range of properties in locations across the city. 

Find out more

Money & banking

The currency in the UK is the British Pound (GBP), which is also called sterling. Cash is accepted almost everywhere, but not on London Buses.

Cash machines are widely available in London and in other urban areas, but can be harder to find in rural areas. Most will let you draw money without a fee. A message will be clearly displayed before you make a withdrawal if a fee is charged.

Cards are also widely accepted, including contactless payment. Please be aware that you may be charged a fee if you use a card from your home country. This will depend on the conditions set by your bank or card provider.

Cheques are rarely used, but banks and a limited number of retailers will accept them.

When you arrive in the UK, you should have a minimum of £100 in cash for your immediate needs, such as meals and train fares.

Before you leave your home country, you should:

  • Speak to your bank and ask their advice about opening an account in the UK.
  • Find out if your bank has a special relationship with a bank in the UK, which may make it easier to open an account.
  • Check if you can use a cash card from your home country to withdraw cash from UK cash machines, as you may need this until you sort out your UK account.
  • Ask what charges apply for using your card in the UK.

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

  • Your passport or national ID card.
  • If you are a visa holder, your visa or Biometric Residence Permit (BRP).
  • A letter from the RCM confirming: that you are fully enrolled, the length of your course, your home address and your address in London. You can submit a request to the Registry Assistants through the RCM's virtual learning environment, learn.rcm, which you will be able to access once you have registered. Please allow at least three working days for the completion of this letter, especially at the start of the academic year.

Please note that we cannot confirm your enrolment until after new student check-in. If you have any queries, please contact the Registry team.

Registry Team

+44 (0)20 7591 4310

registry@rcm.ac.uk

Banks in the UK are usually open from 9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Some branches are also open on Saturday mornings. You can change currency and cash travellers’ cheques at bureau de change offices which are open for longer. The vast majority of shops and services in the UK will accept payment in UK currency only. Credit cards are accepted in most places.

The British Bankers Association publishes helpful information for international students about the types of accounts available in the UK. You should think carefully about which services you require and how often you expect to use them. For example, some accounts have monthly fees but may provide more services, such as money transfers abroad without charges. Other accounts may not have a monthly fee, but can charge for overseas transfers.

British Bankers Association's advice for international students

Insurance

You should ensure you have adequate insurance to cover your time living and studying in London. The nature and amount of insurance you need will depend on your circumstances.

You are also strongly advised to insure any instruments and other valuable possessions you are bringing to the UK, including laptops and mobile phones. In addition, you may wish to consider insurance against unexpected costs such as returning home in the event of serious illness.

For more information about health insurance please see the section below.

Some insurers will combine both medical and travel insurance. This has the added benefit of cover against loss of baggage, tickets, passport, cancellations and delays for your journey home and back again.

The Student Services team can provide further advice about the various insurance policies that exist in the UK.

Student Services

Enquiries relating to student support at the RCM

studentservices@rcm.ac.uk

Healthcare & health insurance

In the UK universal state healthcare is provided by the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS provides everyday healthcare and emergency treatment, as well as subsidised dental and optical treatment.

Waiting times for NHS services can be long, so some people in the UK choose to take out private medical insurance, which allows them to use private hospitals.

If you are taking out private medical insurance, we advise finding a policy that gives you the option of seeking private rather than NHS care. Fast and effective treatment through a private provider might be more appropriate for an injury that could affect your career, such as physiotherapy for Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

If you are a student from outside the UK and you need medical treatment, you can use the NHS subject to certain conditions, as detailed below. The NHS website provides information on the services available. We advise all international students to read this information carefully for the most comprehensive and up-to-date information.

Vaccinations

If you are under 25 years of age and coming to the UK for the first time you are advised to have yourself immunised against meningitis and mumps. Both meningococcal disease (meningitis) and mumps are serious diseases. Meningococcal meningitis can kill and mumps can damage fertility. Fortunately both are rare, but they do occur, and they occur more commonly amongst students. It is strongly recommended that you are immunised against these prior to coming to the RCM.

Health insurance for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals

There are different arrangements for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals depending on when you arrive in the UK.

If you arrive in the UK on or after 1 January 2021, you will be subject to the same arrangements as students from outside the EEA. You will be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge if you are studying on a course lasting 6 months or more.  See below for further details.

If you arrived in the UK before 31 December 2020, you will be eligible to access NHS services in the UK whilst studying on the same basis as UK nationals, provided you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or other form of comprehensive health insurance. You should apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in your home country. These arrangements are in place until 31 December 2020, however you may continue to use your EHIC to access free NHS healthcare for the duration of your course. Further information healthcare for EU/EEA nationals after the transition period ends is available on the UKCISA website.

Please note that the EHIC is not an alternative to private medical and travel insurance. For example, an EHIC will not cover you for repatriation costs in the event of a serious accident, lost or stolen property or any private (non-NHS) treatment. Therefore, we also recommend that you consider taking out an insurance policy for your time in the UK.

Information on how to obtain an EHIC in your home country is available on the European Commission’s website.

Find out more about the EHIC on the NHS website

Health insurance for students from outside the EEA

Most people coming to the UK for six months or more are required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, to contribute to the running costs of the NHS. The charge for students applying for Student visas is currently £470 per 12 months, and is paid upfront when you apply for your visa for the full duration of the leave granted. If you are using a different type of visa to come to the UK, for example a spouse visa, the charge is currently £624 per year.

Please note that the immigration health surcharge will only cover you to use the NHS and not cover you for things like repatriation costs in the event of a serious accident, lost or stolen property, or any private (non-NHS) medical treatment. Therefore, we also recommend that you consider taking out an insurance policy to cover your time in the UK.

Find out more on the UK government's website

Health insurance for students from outside the EU & EEA on short programmes

If you are coming to the UK for less than six months, for example on a short exchange or on the NAFA international placement, you do not have to pay the immigration health surcharge. However, you must ensure that you have an adequate level of health and travel insurance to cover your stay, as you will be charged if you need medical treatment.

Safety

London is generally a safe city, provided you use your common sense. There are simple things you can do to ensure your safety. Do not walk around with your handbag open or your wallet in your back pocket, especially in tourist areas, which are targets for pickpockets.

When going out in the evening you should always make sure you take enough money to get home safely, and try not to walk around on your own after dark.

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and never leave your valuable possessions, such as phones or handbags, unattended. Leave your passport, visa and/or Biometric Residence Permit safely stored at home unless you need them with you.

Please be aware that UK laws may differ from those in your home country. It is illegal to carry any sort of weapon including knives, self-defence CS gas sprays, guns and stun guns, even if you do not use them.

Travel & exploration

London is a vibrant city with lots to offer. There are lots of tourist attractions, historical monuments, cultural events and festivals you can visit. There are goods and cuisine on offer from all over the world. The city’s parks, riversides and historic streets are fantastic places to relax, walk and socialise. Often, the best and cheapest way to explore London is on foot or by bike. However the city is large and longer journeys are best made by public transport.

Transport for London (TfL) is responsible for the local transport system. TfL controls the London Underground, which is also known as ‘the Tube’, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), the London Overground, London Buses and several other transport options. TfL operates a contactless pay-as-you-go scheme, which is cheaper than buying paper tickets on most services, and students on full-time courses lasting more than 6 months can apply for an 18+ Student Oystercard. The scheme works with contactless bank cards, Oyster Cards and NFC-enabled mobile phones.

Find out more

The UK is a diverse country with lots to offer! London has a unique atmosphere, but is very different from the rest of the country. The pace of life outside the capital is generally more relaxed. Make sure you take the opportunity to explore other parts of our beautiful and exciting country.

Full time students qualify for a 16-25 Railcard, giving a 30% discount on rail travel. National Express and Megabus coach services offer tickets at very low prices. 

British Council's guide to exploring the UK

Working in the UK during your studies

If you wish to work in the UK during your studies there are different rules applying to students from different countries.

Before you begin any work your employer is required to check your right to work in the UK.

If you want to work during your studies you will need to make sure you bring your passport (and visa if applicable) with you to London when you start your course.

National Insurance

If you want to work in the UK you will need to apply for a National Insurance number. You should apply by telephone as soon as possible after you arrive in the UK. If you need any help with your National Insurance application, you can speak to Student Services or the Creative Careers Centre.

Applying for a National Insurance number

National Insurance payments will be deducted from your wages by your employer and shown on your payslip. If you earn above a certain amount in one tax year you will also be liable to pay Income Tax. Most employers will also deduct this at source. The UK tax year runs from 5 April – 4 April.

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who arrived before 31 December 2020

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals, and relevant family members, who established residence in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period (before 11pm on 31 December 2020) can continue to live, work and study in the UK without needing a visa. You must document your residence in the UK by applying to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021. 

Current RCM students can find further guidance on the EU Settlement Scheme on Learn.rcm

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who arrive from 1 January 2021

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who arrive in the UK after 1 January 2021 will normally require a Student visa and be subject to Student visa working conditions (see below).

Non-EEA students

Non-EEA students will normally require a Student visa and be subject to Student visa working conditions. Please note that the Student visa route replaced the previous Tier 4 (General) Student route from 5 October 2020.

Students on Student visas/ Tier 4 (General) Student visas for full-time courses are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and full-time during the vacations and during the "wrap up" period of leave following completion of their course.

You cannot be self-employed or work as a professional sportsperson or professional entertainer on a Student Visa/Tier 4 visa. However, students on Music degrees including performance are permitted to undertake performance work, provided it is organised by the RCM through the Creative Careers Centre and is considered to be an integral and assessed part of your course.

To check whether you are eligible to work, you need to look at your visa or biometric residence permit. If you have a Student visa / Tier 4 (General) Student visa that says ‘no work permitted’ this may be an error. Contact the RCM's International team about applying to have this changed.

International team

International student enquiries

international@rcm.ac.uk

Many students work in local restaurants, shops and bars or as ushers, stewards and tour guides at the RCM. This is in addition to the many professional development opportunities through the RCM's Creative Careers Centre.

If you are studying at the RCM on a Standard Visitor visa, for example on a short exchange or on the NAFA London Placement, you are not permitted to work in the UK.

Working in the UK after graduation

If you hope to work in the UK after graduation you will have to obtain a new visa. A Student Visa/Tier 4 visa will expire two or four months after the end of your course, depending on the length of the course, and has restrictions on your ability to work. Obtaining a work visa will allow you to work more freely.

The information provided here is for guidance only. Visa conditions may change by the time you graduate. You are advised to check the latest information provided by UK Visas and Immigration before making any decisions. During your studies you can speak to staff at the RCM about planning for your working future. 

You may find the information on working after your studies published by the UK Council for International Affairs (UKCISA) particularly helpful. 

View UKCISA's advice on working after your studies

Graduate Visa (opened 1 July 2021)

A new Graduate visa route opened on 1 July 2021. The Graduate visa enables international graduates to remain in the UK to work, or look for work, for two years. For Doctoral students, the Graduate route replaced the previous Doctoral Extension Scheme and allows students to remain in the UK for three years.

The Graduate route is unsponsored, meaning applicants do not need a job offer to apply. There is no minimum salary requirement nor cap on numbers. Graduates on the route will be able to work flexibly, switch jobs and develop their career as required, including self-employment. There is no restriction on working as an 'entertainer' (performer). Applicants can begin working on their Student visa while an application is being processed, but the Graduate work conditions only start when the new visa is received.

It is not permitted to study on a course that is normally sponsored in the Student route. So this visa is not suitable for graduates progressing to further study, either at the RCM or elsewhere. These graduates should apply for further leave in the Student route.

To apply, students must have successfully completed an eligible course at a sponsoring institution with a track record of compliance.When a student successfully completes an eligible course, the RCM will report this to the Home Office via their online system. Courses leading to a degree qualification (BMus, MPerf, MComp, MMus, DMus, PhD) are confirmed as being eligible. The caseworker guidance published at the launch of the visa indicates that Diploma qualifications will not be eligible. This includes the Artist Diploma and Graduate Diploma. There is still some conflicting information circulating about this and the RCM and other conservatoires are seeking further clarification from the Home Office. However, we recommend that students graduating in 2021 follow the current published guidance. If you are a current student or prospective student on the Graduate Diploma or Artist Diploma courses, and hope to work in the UK after study, we recommend that you explore other possible visa routes, such as Global Talent, T5 Youth Mobility or the new BN(O) visa for people from Hong Kong. Students who leave a course early with an early-exit qualification (e.g. CertHE, DipHE, PGCert, PGDip) are not eligible to apply.

Applications must be made inside the UK before the student's current Tier 4 / Student visa expires. Normally students must have been studying in the UK throughout the course (other than periods of interruption or time overseas on an exchange). However, due to COVID-19, the Home Office has put in place concessions for students who are due to graduate in summer 2021:

  • If your Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa was more than 12 months long, any time spent studying your course outside the UK between 24 January 2020 and 27 September 2021 will be counted as if you were studying your course in the UK. 
  • If you started your course in 2020 or 2021 and your student visa was 12 months long or less, you must be in the UK by 27 September 2021 or before your current visa expires, whichever is sooner.

We are advised that applicants will need the CAS number for their current visa to apply, so students should make sure they have this available.

Overview information about the Graduate route can be found on the UK Government website.

In addition, the Home Office has published an information booklet for graduating international students. We encourage you to read this, as it has helpful guidance on the application process.

Skilled Worker visa (formerly Tier 2 General Visa)

To apply you need an offer of a full-time, permanent or fixed-term skilled job from an employer with a licence to sponsor migrants to work in the UK. Some of the conditions for Skilled Worker visas are made easier for recent graduates switching from Student Visas/Tier 4 visas. Students interested in this route should speak to the HR department of their prospective employer for further information, or refer to information published by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Skilled Worker visas

Temporary Worker – Creative and Sporting (T5)

This category allows employers to bring workers to the UK for temporary contracts, which can be anything from a few days up to a year, with the possibility of extending for up to a further year. This visa allows graduates to accept shorter term performance engagements or contracts, provided the employer is licenced to sponsor migrants in this category. More information is provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Temporary Worker – Creative and Sporting (T5) visas

Youth Mobility Scheme (T5)

This scheme currently allows nationals of the following countries to work in the UK for up to two years:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • Hong Kong
  • Republic of Korea
  • Taiwan

In addition, the scheme is open to British Nationals (Overseas), British Overseas Territories Nationals and British Overseas Citizens. It is not possible to switch into this category in the UK, so applicants must return home to apply. There are no restrictions on performance work or self-employment on this visa. More information is provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Youth Mobility Scheme (T5) visas

Global Talent

The Global Talent visa replaced the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route with effect from 20 February 2020.

The Global Talent route permits individuals of exceptional talent, who are emerging world leaders in their field, to live and work in the UK without being linked to a specific employer. Endorsement for musicians must be obtained from the Arts Council and there are strict criteria. Only a limited number of endorsements are available per year for all areas of the arts, including music, dance, literature, film. More information is provided by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

View UKVI information on Global Talent visas