Introduction to cost of living in London as a student
London has to be one of the most exciting, lively and cultural cities in the world to be studying in. Experiencing everything that the city has to offer as a student can still be affordable. Despite the cost of living in London as a student is higher than any other UK city.
There are a large range of student discounts to take full advantage of. You can get money off all the essentials; food, clothes, public transport, and also the non-essentials such as entertainment and theatre tickets!
Although the cost of living in London as a student can be pricey, there are ways to make sure you get to experience the best of London. Even on a limited student budget.
What will I need to spend money on living in London as a student?
In addition to your university tuition fees, the cost of living in London will vary depending on your choice of accommodation. Also living essentials such as bills, food, transport, books, equipment, clothes, etc.
And how wisely you spend any ‘spare’ money you have left on entertainment, hobbies or socialising.
According to King’s College London, a broad estimate of the funds needed to live to a reasonable standard in London is currently estimated at approximately £1,250 per month for living costs, in addition to tuition fees (they note that price increases and unexpected expenditure should be taken into account and students arranging initial short-term accommodation on arrival in London need to budget for this).
You may also wish to consider additional initial arrival costs, such as accommodation deposits, utensils, furniture, etc.
Unsurprisingly, accommodation is the biggest spend for students in London per month at an average of £840:
Student accommodation options and costs in London
There are a few options for student accommodation in London which this guide explores further in detail:
– Private halls – buildings operated by a third party company (though some may have partnerships with universities). Similar to halls of residence, laid out in cluster flats and studio apartments. Most will have ensuite rooms with shared facilities (such as kitchen and dining/lounge area) or the studio flats will be completely self-contained.
– University halls of residence – most universities in London will provide places for first-year students at their own halls of residence. They are normally located near the university campuses.
– Private housing – a room in a shared house which is privately owned by a landlord and normally let through an agency.
The chart below gives a quick comparison of private halls (Academic House in central London) versus other student accommodation (university halls & private housing), and some main living costs:
Although other student accommodation may cost roughly the same as private halls, there are hidden fees to consider (figures based on estimates provided by the UCL and using monthly averages*):
Hidden fees with private housing:
Other things to consider:
Furnishings – most private housing is unfurnished, you will be expected to provide furniture and kitchenware (white goods normally provided)
– Facilities – you will most likely have to share facilities such as a bathroom, kitchen and lounge
Private halls are all-inclusive and have no hidden fees which makes life so much easier for students:
– Furnishings – private halls will be fully furnished with some kitchenware (you may need to bring your own utensils and cutlery)
– Facilities – you will most likely have your own ensuite bathroom, and share a kitchen and lounge
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this article is intended as a guide only, as the cost of living in London will differ depending on your individual circumstances and spending habits.Furnishings – private halls will be fully furnished with some kitchenware (you may need to bring your own utensils and cutlery)
About university halls of residence and houses in London
Most universities in London will provide places for first-year students at their own halls of residence. They are normally good value for money, all utility bills are included, and they are located near the university campuses. University halls of residence and houses differ but are usually a mixture of:
– furnished flats with shared facilities (such as a kitchen, lounge/dining area, toilet, bathroom)
– can sometimes be catered, or part-catered, but mostly are self-catering
– can be mixed or single sex, and are large-scale
– providing accommodation for any number up to 800 students.
There is a good community feel at university halls and houses. They are great places to make friends, be part of the social scene and help you feel less lonely during the first few weeks away from home and family. However, like any shared accommodation, you never know who you will end up sharing with and Fresher’s Week can often be a rowdy time. So be prepared to not get much sleep or stock-up on earplugs!
How much do halls of residence cost?
According to Study London a standard room (including bills) is £135 – £210 per week, an ensuite room is £130 – £260 per week, and a studio apartment is £140 – £340 per week.
Many halls of residence will guarantee you accommodation if you have firmly accepted their offer by a given date in the summer but it may not be the same process if you come through Clearing.
What should I look for in halls of residence?
Make sure to take full advantage of Open Days to see the university accommodation for yourself. Check out the university’s website which will have invaluable information about the student housing which they provide, but also options in the private sector (please see private halls section below for more details).
Always try and take a friend or family member to view the accommodation with you and do not feel pressured to sign and tenancy agreement straight away. Remember to take into account:
– does the accommodation have the right ‘vibe’ for you
– is it in a good location
– consider what transport to and from the university would be and how much this will cost you (see transport section below for more detail
– does the accommodation have good facilities
– how many people will you be sharing the facilities with
– can you afford it and will you be getting good value for money.
It is important to check that your university accommodation or private halls are covered by one of three accreditation schemes. These cover essential issues like how the hall is managed, health and safety and security. You can find information about the schemes and check your accommodation is a member by checking the UUK or ANUK/Unipol schemes websites.
How long can I stay in halls of residence?
Most students are expected to move out of halls of residence after their first year, which means you will need to start looking for accommodation and planning who you want to live with as early as November of your first year. This can be quite a stressful process and you will also be expected to provide deposits and pay admins fees (see the private housing section below for more details).
About purpose built student accommodation and private halls in London
Another option for student accommodation in London is purpose built student accommodation or private halls. These buildings are not owned by the university and are usually operated by a third party company (though some may have partnerships with universities).
They are very similar to halls of residence, laid out in cluster flats and studio apartments. Most will have ensuite rooms with shared facilities (such as kitchen and dining/lounge area) or the studio flats will be completely self-contained. Most are excellent quality accommodation with on-site facilities ranging from gyms, to cinema rooms, laundrettes and outside communal space.
Research by Unipol and the National Union of Students (NUS) found that private halls account for half of student bed spaces in the UK, up from 39% in 2012 (Source: Accommodation Costs Survey 2018).
How much do private halls cost?
According to Study London, a standard room (including bills) in a private hall is £160 – £250 per week, an ensuite room is £160 – £280 per week, and a studio apartment is £280 – £500 per week.
What should I look for in private halls?
Private halls are fairly new to the student accommodation market and have many bonuses compared to university halls of residence or private housing, such as:
– all bills are included – that means you don’t need to worry about utility bills, broadband, council tax, contents insurance or a TV license (only for TVs in communal spaces)
– communal areas are maintained and cleaned
– most have a manned reception desk with an on-site manager
– on-site social activities are arranged and are free of charge to attend
– you can rent a cluster of flats with your friends, or book one room and be allocated flatmates to live with
– you have a separate tenancy agreement to your flatmates/other residents, so you are not liable for any damages or if someone decides to leave
– usually there is no deposit scheme or hidden admin costs, but you have may have to pay a one-off reservation fee to secure your booking
– rent can be paid in full in advance, or a payment plan is agreed – usually 3 installments
– some sites also have the option to book for short-term tenancies and summer lets
– you can reserve and book online, and you often don’t need to be there in person to sign contracts
– private halls are also extremely popular with international students due to all the points above as there is less to worry about!
Most private halls have a mixture of residents from many local universities. The accommodation can be an exciting melting pot of students from a variety of nationalities, and from different years of study. Perfect if you are keen to meet new people and expand your social network.
How long can I stay in private halls?
Most private halls cater for all university students, no matter what year of study you are in. So in theory, if you find a place to live that you really like, you could stay there for the whole length of your degree course – and even into postgraduate study.
A lot of private halls offer incentives to existing residents to re-book for the following year so you can bag yourself a bargain and not even have to worry about moving out/finding a new place to live; hassle-free!
About private housing in London
University halls of residence or private halls aren’t for everybody and private housing is still one of the most popular ways to live as a student in London. This is often because students feel like private housing is their first opportunity to live completely independently without supervision.
However, there is still a lot of responsibility that goes along with renting privately. Bills are not included in the rent and you often have to pay hefty deposits and admin fees. You will need to find suitable people to live with, and you may have to prepare yourself for disagreements like who’s been running up a big electricity bill and why you’re stuck with the smallest bedroom!
Renting privately also means you will need to deal with a landlord or an agent who will expect the property to be maintained and cleaned to a good standard.
How much does private housing cost?
According to Study London, the cost for private housing in London can vary great and bills are not normally included in this price. A small studio apartment in London can cost from £120 per week to over £1,000 per week. A room in a shared house costs on average around £150 per week.
What should I look for in private housing?
It’s worth considering that although it may be tempting to settle for a cheaper private house, it will be cheap accommodation for a reason! Remember to be vigilant when viewing the property and check for any signs of damp or mould.
How long can I stay in private housing?
Most landlords will be happy to keep good tenants in their property for as long as possible. So in theory, if you find a place to live that you really like, you could stay there for the whole length of your degree course – and even into postgraduate study.
Living expenses for students living in London
In addition to paying rent there are many other living expenses that you will need to take into account when living in London. Depending on your accommodation, some of these bills may already be included in your rent:
Confused about council tax? Essentially, if you are a full-time college of university student you are exempt from paying. NUS offers some great advice to help you work out if you are exempt from paying council tax or not here.
If you live in halls of residence or private halls, TVs in communal spaces will already be covered by a licence.
However, if you wish to watch TV in your room or live in private housing, you must pay for your own. You require a licence no matter what device you watch or record live TV and a licence costs £150.50 a year.
These include gas, water, electricity, and broadband. If you are living in halls of residence or private halls these may already be included in your rent. If you are living in private housing you will need to organise payment of these yourself and split the bill between all of your housemates. Split the Bills has some helpful estimations depending on house size and number of residents.
Most insurance providers offer competitive quotes for student contents insurance, with the average starting at approximately £15 per month. If you are living in halls of residence or private halls, you most probably won’t need to sort insurance as this will already be included as part of your tenancy. You can find out more about the different types of contents insurance here.
Deposits and admin fees:
Again, this will depend on your choice of student accommodation. Private housing often runs up the biggest expenses when it comes to deposits and admin fees, and you may also need to pay a month’s rent in advance. Deposits can vary but they usually range from 4-6 weeks rent. Private halls usually ask for a non-refundable reservation fee of approximately £250 when you make your booking. But a bonus is there won’t be any extra deposits or extra admin fees on top of this, as long as you pay your rent on time!
Furnishings, kitchenware and laundry:
As well as utility bills you will need to consider what you need to live comfortably in your student accommodation. Does your room come already furnished? Do you need to provide your own kitchen utensils? Do you have access to laundry facilities such as a washer and tumble dryer, or will you need to use a laundrette (costs tend to range for £2-3 per wash and £1.50-£2 per dry)?
Storage and removals:
Will you be living at your accommodation during the summer? And what are your plans for second and third year? If your tenancies don’t run back to back you may need to put your belongings in storage. Luckily, self-storage is now extremely popular in London and you can store one box per week from as little as £1.04 per week. If you have heavy items and don’t fancy lugging your suitcase and belongings on the Underground, then it may be wise to hire a removal van or a company to do it for you (prices start from £25 per hour).
Some private halls offer storage as part of your contract and if you decide to stay at the same accommodation for the next year you won’t need to move your belongings at all!
Cost of transport when living in London as a student
There’s no denying that London has travel options for pretty much everyone. Whether speed is your thing, you need to travel cheap and cheerfully, or you’re cutting down on your carbon footprint. From walking (which is pretty much free) to Uber (which can cost up to £0.30 per minute), take a look at the options for you:
Walking is without a doubt the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to get around London. Depending on how close your student accommodation is it to your university campus and amenities, you could be saving pennies and also getting some crucial exercise by walking.
SAFETY FIRST: You will need to research your walking route and make sure to stay to in well lit, public areas when walking alone or at night-time. Do not be tempted by shortcuts through side streets. Remember that your regular route during the day may be far less safe at night. When walking at night it is definitely not a good idea to listen to music. They dramatically reduce your awareness of your surroundings.
Cycling is also another cheap and quick way to get about. Traffic in London is notoriously bad so you will need to be a confident cyclist to navigate the roads. However, there are currently eight ‘cycle superhighways’ across London that connect stations, town centres and key destinations, making them more accessible and easier for people to cycle to. There are also ‘quietways’ that are continuous and convenient cycle routes on less-busy backstreets across London.
If you have your own bike you will need somewhere safe and secure to store it, and your housemates might not be too keen with you keeping your muddy set of wheels on the communal landing!
However, most halls of residence and private halls have bike storage as standard.
London’s public bicycle scheme is another way to get around the city on two wheels if you don’t own a bike – and the first half hour is free. There are more than 750 docking stations and 11,500 bikes to hire around London. It costs £2 to access a Santander Cycles bike for 24 hours; the first 30 minutes of each journey is free. For longer journeys, it costs an extra £2 for each additional 30 minutes. Bikes can be hired using a bank card at the docking station, or using the official app.
SAFETY FIRST: Check what you are legally required to do when cycling here.
London has a 24 hour bus service that operates on over 700 different routes and is fairly cheap to use. A single bus fare costs £1.50, and if you ‘pay as you go’ you can make unlimited bus journeys for free within one hour of first touching in.
If you only use buses and trams to travel around London, you will pay a maximum of £4.50 per day, as long as you pay with the same ticket or contactless payment card every time. You cannot pay for bus journeys with cash; you will need an Oyster card, a Travelcard or a contactless payment card (see Travelcards section below for more details).
London’s buses run throughout the night. Night bus services cover the period between the close of the Tube and the start of daytime bus services. In addition, many London bus routes run for 24 hours.
Travelling by train has to be one of the most popular and efficient ways of travelling longer distance across London as a student.
Did you know that the London Underground’s history dates back to 1863 when the world’s first underground railway opened between Paddington and Farringdon?
The Underground is divided into nine zones and Central London is covered by zone 1. There are 11 Tube lines and fares depend on how far you travel, time of day, and how you pay. Oyster or contactless payments are the cheapest ways to pay for single fares. Tube services usually run from 5am until midnight, with Night Tube services on some lines on Friday and Saturday evenings.
London’s Overground rail services crisscross the city and extend beyond the Tube network. Most local train lines connect efficiently with the Tube and accept payment by Visitor Oyster card, Oyster card, Travelcard and contactless payment card.
SAFETY FIRST: If you take a train late at night try to avoid empty or almost empty carriages, especially if you are on your own.
As a student in London you can save 30% on Travelcards and Bus & Tram Passes with an 18+ Student Oyster photocard. You can also use this Oyster card to pay as you go but you won’t receive the 30% discount.
Oyster cards are electronic smartcards that are used to pay for public transport in London. To use an Oyster card, touch the card on the yellow reader at the gates as you enter and end your journey. You don’t need to touch out at the end of your journey on buses and trams.
It may also be worth investing in a 16-25 or 26-30 Railcard and add it to your 18+ Student Oyster photocard to get 34% off pay as you go off-peak fares and daily caps for the Tube, London Overground, TfL Rail and most National Rail services in London.
It is also worth purchasing a Travelcard wallet/holder to keep your pass safe and use a designated pocket in your bag so you always know where it is
Quickest ways to travel in London as a student
Often the quickest way to get from door to door (no walking or navigating public transport involved!) is by car. However, it is one of the most expensive forms of transport in London so you would need to seriously consider the necessity of using an Uber or taxi frequently.
The undeniable luxury of using Uber to get around London is the ease of it! Book a ride from your phone, step out your door and into the waiting car, no need to fuss paying by cash or card, and then get dropped off directly at your destination! However, it has a price tag… base fares start from £2.50 and then £0.15 per minute on top of that (or £1.25 per mile). Minimum fare is £5.00 and you can also be charged a cancellation fee of £6.00 if you book and then change your mind.
To put it into perspective a journey from Academic House student accommodation in Herne Hill to UCL will take 35 minutes by train (from Herne Hill station), costing £8.00 return (using an 18+ Student Oyster card). To travel to the same location by Uber it will cost between £14-20 (for one way), taking 35 minutes depending on traffic.
So travelling by train takes the same amount of time and could save you up to £32.00!
Surge pricing is also another thing to take into consideration when Ubering. This is when the prices either rise or drop depending on demand. During busy periods when there are more riders than drivers, Uber increases its normal fares.
Taxis and minicabs:
London black cabs and taxis are an iconic way to travel around Central London and will get you from A to B quickly. You can book in advance, hail on the street (black cabs only), or be picked up from designated taxi ranks. If the yellow TAXI sign is on, the cab is available for hire. Black cabs are metered and there is a minimum charge of £2.60.
Prices depend on time of day and distance, but it will roughly cost the same amount as an Uber.
SAFETY FIRST: Be sure you book with a licensed minicab with a Transport for London license disc: unbooked minicabs are illegal, unsafe and uninsured. Uber also has some great safety tips for passengers on their website.
Cost of food in London as a student
By buying and preparing your own food you will save a lot of money whilst living as a student in London. Although the choice of takeaways, cafes and restaurants in London is second to none, eating out less often and keeping it as a once a month ‘treat’ will save you pennies in the long run.
According NatWest’s Student Living Index 2018, students spend more on supermarket shopping than anything else – on average £76.30 per month.
Budgeting for a weekly food shop and planning your meals is the easiest way to save money and still eat well. Having a set amount of money to spend on groceries and a prepared shopping list means you will be less likely to ‘splurge’ on tempting supermarket offers and you’ll come away with enough food to last you the week (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks).
Become familiar with your local supermarket and work out where and when they markdown stock to clear. You can pick up some great bargains!
Meal prepping has become very popular recently. All you need is some Tupperware and to cook up a batch of your favourite dish (chilli, casserole, curry) to freeze in portions. Having a yummy meal that’s going to take a few minutes to re-heat in the microwave means you will be less tempted to get a takeaway pizza. Or settle for a Pot Noodle!
Deliveroo: You don’t even need to step outside your front door to enjoy food from your favourite restaurants and takeaways! 1. Simply place your order online. 2. Track your food to your door in real time. 3. Eat from the comfort of your own home. However, this convenience comes with a price tag; the menu price plus £2.50 (as long as the order is over £15, below and the fee goes up to £4.50).
Uber Eats: Similar to Deliveroo, you can place your order online and get it delivered straight to your door. Uber Eats is available from 7:00 AM – 4:00 AM, seven days a week.
Eating out in London:
London has some of the best choices of takeaways and restaurants in the UK. Local takeaways and fast food chains offer cheap meals but if you’re after something a bit healthier, the average price for a meal at a standard restaurant is £15.00. A meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant (three courses) will be £50.00.
Make the most of your NUS discount and always search for voucher codes to save extra dosh! If you don’t finish all your meal, ask for a ‘doggy bag’ and have the leftovers for lunch the next day.
SAFETY FIRST: Always check the ‘use by’ dates on food and make sure you refrigerate and store food correctly. Take care when re-heating food to make sure it is piping hot. Always write the date you made the meal on the Tupperware container/freezer bag so you know how long you have to eat it.
University equipment costs
On top of the everyday essentials (accommodation, bills, transport, food and drink) you will need to factor in any costs for equipment needed for your university course. Though it might be tempting to splurge on shiny new textbooks, desk organisers, pencils, pens, etc. there are plenty of places to pick up a bargain and save some money.
Discounted stationery: Make use of your NUS discount and check which high-street stationers offer student discount.
Borrow equipment: Buy as much as you can online. It’s often cheaper than buying on the high-street. Most universities also offer an equipment loans service where they are able to lend various items of AV/media equipment to students
Get software for free: Save the Student has a run-down of the best free software for students, saving you some serious pennies on office, antivirus, image editing, audio & video software.
Cost of socialising as a student in London
It is important to find a balance between managing your university workload and having down-time with your housemates and friends. Your university years are some of the most formative of your life, with new people, new places and new experiences.
The Student Living Index 2018 states that the longer time students spend socialising, the more likely they are to enjoy studying, and there are so many social activities for students to take part in in London.
So whether it’s a chilled pizza night with your housemates in your student accommodation or a club or society event at your university…
…or taking up a new hobby or going out for a student night out on the town, there is something to suit every person and every pocket.
Student nightlife in London:
You can start by checking out your own university’s SU bar and venue that will have a schedule of events. The drinks – soft and alcoholic – will be cheap and cheerful!
Clubs and societies:
Your university will have a variety of clubs and societies to join. It is a great way to meet new people with similar interests and make a new network of friends.
Student clubs and societies can range from sports, to subject-related interests and hobbies. You can even set-up your own society with grant funding from your university.
Hobbies and interests:
London is a melting-pot of people and cultures which means there is a huge choice of hobby and interest groups to join.
Sport: If exercising is your thing there will be a gym at your university campus, or within walking distance of where you live. A lot of gyms are affordable for students and offer discounts or pay-as-you go rates. Prices start from around £14.99 per month and pay-as-you-go from £4.50 per session.
Music: MakingMusic has a free online search option so you can easily find a music group near you.
Try something new: There are many weird and wonderful hobbies in London to try out. Such as butchery (£155 for a one-off session), trapeze school (£30 for a 2 hour beginners session) or weaving (£45 for 2 hours).
Get inspiration online: Meetup is a great way to join a group online. You then meet in person at an arranged event, such as a board-game or photography group. A lot of the activities are free too.
Student discounts in London
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest bonuses of being a student is the awesome discounts! You save some serious pounds by being savvy and checking out what discounts are available:
Oyster cards and travelcards: According to the Student Living Index, London students spend the most on public transport, paying on average £43.30 per month. So it is well worth getting in a student travelcard (please see section above on).
TOTUM (NUS Extra) or ISIC card: A TOTUM card (formally known as an NUS Extra card) is a great investment for just £12 a year. You can get great discounts across university essentials such as books, eating out, entertainment. So pretty much everything a student needs. For a 2-year card it’s £22 or £32 for a 3-year card .
An ISIC (International Student Identity Card) allows students the world over prove their official student status. It also allows access to thousands of targeted student benefits and discounts in over 130 countries. With no travel insurance, a card costs $20. With Premium travel insurance it costs $99 and with Explorer travel insurance it’s $199.
If in doubt, when you’re at the checkout ask if they accept student discount – you might save yourself some dough!
UNiDAYS: UNiDAYS is free to join and also offers great discounts, such as 50% off Amazon Prime and 40% Virgin trains.
Cheap eats: Google is your best friend. Have a good look online to find out the cheapest and best rated places to eat near you. Also, check out our eating out in London guide above for more ideas.
The London Pass: If you’re keen to soak up the sights and sounds of London, then The London Pass will be great for you. The credits package give you access to over 80 incredible attractions, tours, and museums. You will also get fast track entry at many of London’s top attractions and 1-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour. A 1-day pass is £75 and up to a 10 day pass is £199.
Working whilst studying in London
Studying can be expensive. There’s accommodation bills, food, transport, books, equipment, clothes… and pretty much everything else to pay for. So you might be considering getting a part-time job? Luckily there are plenty of student-friendly jobs in London. These include:
- Event staff/waiting staff
A job can be part-time, evening or weekend only, zero hours contract, or seasonal if you only want to work during the holidays. It’s a great way to earn some extra cash, but try not to let working get in the way of your studies. UCAS has some great tips to make sure you’re picking the right part-time job for you here.
National living wage: From April 2019, the National Living Wage will increase by 38 pence-an-hour to £8.21.
International students: If you are an international student in full-time undergraduate or postgraduate study, you are allowed to work part-time. You can work during term time for up to 20 hours a week and full-time during the holidays. This means you could earn up to approximately £656 (before tax deductions) per month during term-time.