Studying Abroad in London? Here's How to Get There...

by Heather Robinette / Apr 11, 2016 /
Heather Robinette's picture

Studying abroad is a great opportunity and I’m sure many others are like myself - when I studied abroad in London, it was also my first time abroad. There were definitely some small tips that would have been beneficial, and some I figured out myself. I am able to hopefully provide some insight into what to expect when leaving the United States and arriving in London. It can be an overwhelming experience, but if you have an idea of what will happen when you land, it can make the start of your time in London less stressful. I hope you are able to use some of this information for your first trip! 

Studying Abroad in London? Here's How to Get There...

An aerial view of Terminal 3 at London Heathrow Airport. Wikimedia Commons: Panhard

Leaving the United States:

When you check in for an international flight you will need to use your passport. Make sure you have your passport and all of the needed documentation in an easy to access place. International flights are usually larger planes, so boarding will take longer than on domestic flights. 

Studying Abroad in London? Here's How to Get There...

Before Landing:

I would recommend trying to get some sleep on the flight. Personally, I was excited and nervous, so I read and watched movies on the way over. I would also recommend taking a few snacks. You will be served a meal, but it’s better to have some additional food in case you get hungry. When we got closer to London, they passed out declaration forms. I would suggest taking a pen with you so you can have it filled out before you land. The form will ask if you want to declare anything at customs. Make sure you know if you packed anything that will need to be declared. 

Landing:

Once you land, I would suggest going straight to the line and waiting until after you get through everything before going to the restroom. Luckily, I decided to wait and was one of the first ones in line. Many trans-Atlantic flights arrive early in the morning, so it’s possible there will be other flights arriving at the same time. I would suggest giving yourself at least two hours to get through everything, but it will ideally take 30-45 mins. I lucked out and got right through, since our flight was early and I waited to use the restroom. 

Studying Abroad in London? Here's How to Get There...

© LHR Airports Limited see photolibrary.heathrow.com 

Customs:

For customs, you will go through one of three exits. You will go through green if you aren’t declaring anything, and red if you are declaring something. Personally, I’ve only been through the non-declaring line, so you just walk through. They do randomly search some people, so be aware it still happens. This part I didn’t even slow down for, so it was fairly easy to get through. 

Immigration (Passport Control):

Immigration, also known as passport control, will be the part that can take up the most of your time. Once you get through customs, you will then look for signs for non-European passports. You will then stand in line to speak with an immigration officer. Since it was my first time doing it, I was very nervous. They will look at your passport and ask several questions about why you are there. You will want to have all of your documents prepared, in case they ask to see them. Once they approve you, they will stamp your passport book and you can continue on to baggage claim. 

Some documents you will want to have ready:

  • Roundtrip ticket already booked
  • A letter of acceptance from the school or program that states why you will be there and for how long
  • Recent bank statement and debit/credit card that shows you have money to support yourself while you are there
  • Visa if required

Reaching Arrivals: 

Once you make it through customs and immigration, you will finally reach baggage claim where you can pick up your bags. Depending on how you chose to study abroad, someone will meet you at the airport to pick you up, or you are on your own. Luckily, London has a fairly good transportation system so it is easy to get around. Heathrow is on the outside of London so it will take over an hour to get to the city, so be prepared. I went with a program provider, so someone met us at the airport and we took a chartered bus to the hotel in central London. Another tip for those who arrive on the early morning flights is to try to do your best to stay awake all day so you can adjust your sleep schedule faster. It makes for a rough first day, but you are able to adapt a lot faster if you do. 

Studying Abroad in London? Here's How to Get There...

View across the central area of London Heathrow Terminal 2. Wikimedia Commons: Orderinchaos

Return Trip:

After surviving the airport the first time and then living halfway across the world, it’s time to go home again. The return trip was a breeze by this point. The one note I do want to mention is the setup. In the United States, we wait for our flights at the gate. In London, you wait in the common terminal area for your boarding time and then head to your gate. There are plenty of food and shopping options so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to browse around. 

Studying Abroad in London? Here's How to Get There...

Flickr cc: André Luís 

 

I hope this information is able to give you some insight into what to expect when you arrive in London. Make sure you have all of your needed documents ready. This can help make your first experience in London less stressful and provide a great beginning to your study abroad story!

 

 

Heather Robinette is the London Study Abroad Editor for Wandering Educators. She notes, "During the summer of 2011, I studied abroad for six weeks in London at the University of Westminster with Academics Programs International. I graduated from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS in December 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. I currently work as a marketing analyst for a small company in central Texas. I currently work as a marketing coordinator for a real estate firm in Las Vegas, NV. I am also pursuing my MBA. While I was abroad in London, I was able to create many unforgettable memories that I will never forget! My study abroad experience helped me gain various skills, but above all else, it helped me to learn more about myself and the world around me." You can find her online at http://www.heatherrobinette.com/