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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 £12,000 per year in living costs. Some students need more than this.

Please note, non-EU students who require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK must show they have sufficient funds to support themselves. If you are a Tier 4 applicant you need to have at least £1,265 per month (£11,385 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


The Royal College of Music’s hall of residence, Prince Consort Village, provides high-quality accommodation for up to 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

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


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

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 wesbite 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.


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 nationals

EU and EEA nationals can apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in their home country. EHIC holders are entitled to use the NHS free of charge. 

If you are exercising a right of residence in the UK as a student, you are required by EU regulations to have comprehensive sickness insurance. Having an EHIC satisfies this requirement, but only if you do not intend to remain in the UK permanently.

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

What is covered by the EHIC?

Health insurance for students from outside the EU & EEA

In April 2015 the UK Government introduced an immigration health surcharge so that people coming to the UK for six months or more contribute to the running costs of the NHS. Paying the surcharge entitles you to use the NHS on the same basis as UK nationals. The charge for students on Tier 4 Student visas is £300 per 12 months, and is paid upfront when you apply for your visa for the full duration of the leave granted by that visa. If you are using a different type of visa to come to the UK, for example a spouse visa, the charge will be £400 per year.

Students who applied for their visas before the surcharge was introduced can continue to use the NHS without charge for the duration of their current course, but will be required to pay if they apply to extend their stay in the UK.

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

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.


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. 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.

Nationals of EEA countries and Switzerland

Nationals of EEA member states are currently permitted to work in the UK without restriction. EEA member states include all EU countries as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. 

Swiss nationals are also permitted to work in the UK under an agreement with the EU.

For more informtion on working in the UK after Brexit, please see our information on the UK's departure from the EU

Non-EEA students

Most non-EEA students on Tier 4 Student visas are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during term time and any number of hours during the vacations.

You cannot be self-employed or work as a professional sportsperson or professional entertainer on a Tier 4 visa. However, since September 2011 it has been possible for students to undertake some 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 Tier 4 visa that says ‘no work permitted’ this may be an error. Contact the the RCM's International team about applying to have this changed.

Nicola Peacock

International & Admissions Manager

+44 (0)20 7591 4377

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 short term study 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 graduation you will have to obtain a new visa. A 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

Tier 2 (General)

This is the route that the UK Government intends most graduates to use if they wish to remain in the UK after their studies. 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 Tier 2 are made easier for recent graduates switching from Tier 4. 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 Tier 2 (General) visas

Tier 4 Doctoral Extension Scheme

This route permits DMus and PhD graduates to remain in the UK for 12 months after finishing their course to gain work experience in the UK. To be eligible, applicants must currently be studying in the UK with valid Tier 4 leave, have a CAS issued by their sponsoring institution and apply during the 60 days before their course end date. There are no restrictions on performance work or self-employment on this visa.

Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative and Sporting)

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 Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative and Sporting) visas

Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme)

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

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Monaco
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan

In addition, the scheme is open to British Overseas Nationals, British Overseas Territories Nationals and British Nationals (Overseas). It is not possible to switch into this category in the UK, so applicants must return home to apply. Each country has a limited quota of places available and your national government would act as your sponsor. 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 Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visas

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)

This route permits individuals of exceptional talent, who are emerging world leaders in their field, to live and work in the UK. Endorsement must be obtained from the Arts Council and there are very strict criteria. Currently only 300 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 Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas