It can be really difficult to figure out everything you need to do to settle in London, since you will probably get information from various flyers, people, websites, etc. So I put together a checklist for new Middlesex students. It’s not exhaustive, but I think it covers most of the practical things I had to put on my “to do” list upon arrival. It’s rather long, but all important. And I’ve bolded major points with the rest being explanation. There is no special order to this list.
1. If you’ll be roaming, then get some kind of international phone plan before you arrive, even if you plan to change your number. I say this because I barely used my phone upon arrival, since I was lost finding Middlesex the first day of orientation (London is lacking in visible street signs!) For using Google Maps a couple times, I paid dearly: my final bill from AT&T was $600. (Damn you ATT!) When they say roaming is expensive, they mean overly, excessively, ridiculously, like paying $10,000 for a handbag, you will rub your eyes in disbelief EXPENSIVE. Just Google search “int’l roaming horror stories” and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of them. If you ask the phone company to lower the bill, they probably will, but I wouldn’t expect to pay nothing.
2. Turn off data roaming on your home mobile phone. If you don’t know where that functionality is on your phone, you better find it because your apps will be running in the background and you’ll be unwittingly racking up the roaming charges.
3. “Unlock” your phone by first finding out if your phone company will do it for you. I had never even heard of “unlocking” before arriving to London, but apparently it allowed me to replace my SIM with a Three SIM and get a local number. You don’t necessarily have to pay to get your phone unlocked at all these random phone unlocking places. I think the people doing that may be those trying to get out of paying cancellation fees. However, at one mobile phone store, I was told I would have to pay £100 to unlock my phone, and that I’d have to do it every month (I assume because your phone company can catch on to what you’re doing and lock your phone again). So in reality, unlocking my phone at some random place, instead of having my phone company AT&T do it for me, would have been the wrong choice. So I paid my cancellation fee, AT&T unlocked it for me, and I moved on.
4. Get a local number. I was told by T-Mobile I would need a bank account for a monthly plan, but with Three pay-as-you-go, no bank account was needed. With Three, I pay £15 monthly for unlimited data usage. I just dial 424 before I call U.S. numbers to get a reduced rate, and there are 3-digit prefixes for other countries as well. Shopping around for the best deal is not a bad idea though.
5. Get an Oyster card ahead of time, if possible. You can order online. You can get an Adult Oyster while you wait on your 18+ Student Oyster. Students 18+ get discounted rates on Travelcards and bus and tram passes. And when you start using your Oyster on the bus, make sure to exit the back of the bus (not the front and back, as we do in San Diego and probably other parts of the U.S.)
6. When you send your belongings from home, make sure that your family marks them as “personal belongings” and be aware of the estimated values you write on the paperwork. My stepfather, who does not speak English as a first language, was to send my boxes, so my little brother helped him. Since “personal belongings” was not an option on the forms they filled out, they were confused and marked my belongings as “merchandise.” As a result, and also because they just made up random values to estimate the worth of my clothing, I had to pay £305 in duties and VAT to get my boxes delivered. I now have to deal with the headache of filling out paperwork to attempt a refund from customs. I was so stressed at the time I found this out that my eyes filled with tears. Don’t let this happen to you!
7. Request a Student Status Letter and Bank Letter from Unihub. You’ll most likely need these for opening a bank account, getting a Hendon Library card, etc.
8. Get a bank account. I don’t have anything to say about this. You’ll have to find out what bank best suits your needs.
9. Get a Hendon Library card. The library is right next to Middlesex Uni and a nice place to get some work done. You might find one or two of your textbooks there, and they also have a café. You can use your bank letter as proof of your address when you apply for the card.
10. Get a Nectar Card and Tesco Club Card. They help you save money, since you’ll probably go grocery shopping at nearby Tesco and Sainsbury’s a lot.
11. If you plan to work here, get a National Insurance Number. I asked if I could do it online, but I was advised to go through official channels and call the number given to me by the university.
12. Register with a doctor. The uni can provide you the number to some doctors’ offices nearby.