Cost of Living in UK

As an international student, one of the questions you might be wondering about is the cost of living in UK. Of course, you have to worry about the cost of college, but what about the other costs you will have to deal with there? Let’s take a quick look at the some of the costs and how it may affect your budget if you study in UK (all USD conversions are based on a £1 to $1.55 conversion rate).

The cost of living in UK varies depending on what part of the country you live in.

If, as a student, you decide to live in London, you will be paying much more than you would in other parts of the country. In March of 2012, London was ranked the 25th most expensive city to live in. Of course, there are ways to get rid of some of the costs, but it will still be quite pricey.

Like for example, you can choose to live in northern England instead of renting a house in southern England which turns to be more expensive than the first. In general, the costs vary greatly over the whole of UK, which makes it difficult to set a cost of living in stone.

Much of this information comes from 2011, so you may have to adjust for inflation and such depending on where you live. These numbers are based on what the public sees as a socially acceptable standard of living.

As a single student living in the UK, your weekly budget including rent should be approximately £240.89 ($370 USD). You can certainly live off of less than that depending on the flat you are renting, but that average (which comes out to £15,000/$23,000 USD).

Where does that calculation come from? Let’s take a closer look.

  • Rent: The average rent that you will pay in UK varies depending on where you live. A one bedroom flat averages at £650 (~$1000 USD) per month if you’re in the city; £550 (~$850 USD) if you’re outside of the city. It may be more if your energy costs are included in the rent.
  • Council Tax: If you live in UK, you have to pay council tax. They calculate how much you should pay per year based on where you live and how many people live with you (if you live alone, it’s much less). This tax helps pay for trash collection, police forces, and street maintenance. It usually averages about £25 ($40 USD) per week.
  • Other utilities: If these aren’t included in the rent, the total for gas, electricity, and water per week is about £40/$60 USD. If you live alone or are not home that often due to sightseeing, socializing, or studying, those costs may be less. Heat may also make utilities vary, but that estimate should at least help you budget throughout the year.
  • Bank Account: If you are planning to move to the UK, you will have to open a new bank account to pay for expenses and bills, as well as to send and receive money. Depending on what UK bank you choose, fees can really add up, especially if you do international transfers.

    A Borderless Account with Transferwise could be an ideal solution to get local bank account details and spend, send and receive money while you are there. 

  • TV license: In UK, you must pay for a television license if you’re watching TV at all, even if it’s on a computer or tablet. The cost of the license is £150 ($230 USD) per year for a color television. Luckily, this is per home and not per person, so if you have roommates, you just split this cost.
  • Travel costs: Many people in UK will buy passes instead of having a vehicle. It makes the commute faster and you can travel much further for much less. A monthly pass for most services. averages at £55, but students can get some great discounts.

    Check out our Transport in UK guide to learn more about public transportation.

  • Mobile Phone Plan: While you’re in UK, you are probably going to get yourself a local phone number to communicate with friends, family, and other people. There are many mobile networks you can choose, some are cheaper some more expensive depending on the services they offer you.

    You can read more about UK phone carriers and plans here.

  • Other Miscellaneous costs: such as food, internet, books, toiletries, phone plan and other items and services you may need. Make sure that you also save a certain amount of cash for potential health care issues that come up, excess school costs that you weren’t expecting, and general emergencies.

Wondering about how much do specific things cost in UK?

Here’s a quick overview of some items that you may purchase as a student.

  • A meal at a pub or restaurant: £10 (15.50 USD).
  • Combo meal at a fast food restaurant: £5 (7.75 USD)
  • Liter of milk: £1 (1.55 USD)
  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of chicken breast: £7 (10.85 USD)
  • A pair of jeans: £51.25 ($80 USD)
  • Half of a liter of beer £3 ($4.65 USD)
  • 1.5 liter bottle of water £1 (1.55 USD)
  • Produce per kg: £1 to £2 (1.55 to 3.10 USD)

As you can see, the prices in UK are very similar to buying most of those same things in the United States or Australia. Some of them are much cheaper (for example, produce).

That’s primarily due to the climate and the availability of those products in UK as compared to their availability throughout the year in other countries. In general, the cost of living is fairly average in UK, and it won’t take much of an adjustment to your current budget in order to live and thrive there.

It will take even less of a budget adjustment if you decide to work while studying in UK. Many students decide to work in UK while they are attending university; most employers will be flexible with your university schedule as well. Even if you’re only working five to ten hours a week, a job can help alleviate some of the costs you may accrue while you are studying in UK.

If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of budgeting information and more information on the cost of living in UK, then check out the Numbeo report on the cost of living in the United Kingdom and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s 2011 Income Standard Report, which are where much of the information for this guide was gathered.

Average Cost of Living in London

Cost of Living in London is high, but compared to other world’s largest cities, the British capital is a quite affordable city to live in. Besides this, London guarantees the same quality of lifestyle as those cities, while carrying the same desirability among people who look at turning London to their future home.

However, for an expat that is about to land at a totally different and unknown environment (and that is not the case only with London), maintaining a financial stability is hard to accomplish. As such you need to make some estimations which in turn will absolutely help you to make right choices when it comes to your daily life schedule like finding a cheaper apartment to rent, an affordable restaurant to eat, a shopping place, a suitable option to commute and so on.

The first and the foremost concern you will have when arriving in London is renting an apartment. As one of the world’s greatest cities in the world,  normally rental prices are higher than in areas around. The rental price gap between downtown and peripheral areas in London is not that large as it’s common in other world’s biggest cities. Simply put, rent prices in London are higher no matter where you’re living in. Well, what would you expect else, it’s London baby. The good news is that due to a weakening of the British currency (pound), rent prices in London declined.

Average Cost of Rent in London

Currently, renting an apartment in London it will cost you over a thousand pounds per month on average. It is estimated that the monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment at the city center costs on average £1,649.03. A similar apartment in suburb neighbourhoods has a monthly rent of £1,175.43 on average. Overall, the monthly cost for renting such an apartment in the downtown area ranges between £1,200 and £2,200, while in periphery ranges from £900 to £1,500.

If you’re looking for a larger apartment, then the rent may easily go over £3,000. For example, renting a three-bedroom apartment located in the city center, will cost you on average £3,094.06. If you do a closer research while you’re there you can find such an apartment whose monthly rent changes between £2,200 and £4,500.  Outside the center, you can find such an apartment with a price ranging from £1,500 to £2,700 (£2,035.33 on average.) In these cases is always good to find someone with whom you can share the apartment and consequently you will pay less for the rent. This is what most international students in London do.

Renting an apartment carries additional responsibilities like taking care of utilities’ bills. On average for an apartment which covers an area of 85m2, you will have to pay £145.41  each month for electricity, heating, cooling, water and garbage altogether. Whereas, for a 45m2 apartment on average you will have to pay £120.

Average Food Cost per Month in London

The cost of living in London will also depend on how well you manage food costs. The prices of some of the most elementary items are higher in London. Fortunately, UK universities have dining halls within their campus where students can purchase a membership card and eat regularly.

These dining halls are highly committed to offering students a diversity of menus each including a wide range of meals at a lower price. This way you can choose freely what it matches your budget and what tastes you better. With a smaller margin of change, the price of a meal at these dining halls varies between £5 and £10.

On the other hand, eating in London’s restaurants is not a preferable option for students. On average a meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs £15 with a range from £10 to £20.  In a slightly much expensive restaurant, the price of a meal for two persons ranges from £40 to £70, or on average £50.

In other words, if you would eat in a restaurant regularly once per day, it would cost at least £450. If you add other unavoidable living expenses to this amount of money, then the cost of living in London can be equal to a fortune. Said otherwise, it would be unaffordable.

Find below prices of some of the most important and basic items in London as of 2018


Items Average cost
Bread (500g) £1.09
Water (1.5liter) £0.94
Milk (1 liter) £0.92
Eggs (12) £2.12
Local Cheese (1kg) £6.31
Beef (1kg) £8.64
Chicken Breasts (1kg) £6.85
Tomato (1kg) £2.30
Potato (1kg) £1.21
Onion (1kg) £1.20
Rice (1kg, white) £1.63
Apples (1kg) £2.01
Oranges (1kg) £2.03
Banana (1kg) £1.07
Domestic Beer (0.5 liter) £1.63

Labeling a city as a cheap or an expensive place to live can be subjective. To avoid this, the comparison is often a good metric to give a better measurement to what extent a city is cheaper or expensive. The data we have given below draw a parallel between the average food costs in London and other major cities in UK.

The UK city Average Food Cost per Month
London £265
Edinburgh £255
Belfast £245
Manchester £240
Cardiff £235
Glasgow £225
Birmingham £215
Liverpool £205

To summarize the table

  • The average food cost per month in London is almost 30% higher than in Liverpool (the cheapest among other cities on the table)
  • The average food cost in London is higher by roughly 4% than in Edinburgh (ranked second in the table)
  • The average food cost in London is higher by almost 13% than in Cardiff
  • The average food cost in London is higher by almost 18% than in Glasgow
  • The average food cost in London is higher by 8% than in Belfast

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