International Student Support


What is the cost of living in the UK?
Opening a bank account

Cash and  credit cards
Minimising expenditure
Money management advice

What is the cost of living in the UK?

It is difficult to estimate the cost of living in Belfast as every student is different and the cost of living in the UK will depend on each individual student’s lifestyle.  However, in this section we aim to point you in the direction of where you can find this information out for yourself.  You will know best what type of lifestyle you lead, so below is some information about shops and services which you can use to estimate what the cost of living your particular lifestyle will be in Belfast. 

Shopping for food, clothes and home:

 You can find out the cost of food in local supermarkets by visiting their websites.  All big supermarkets have their products available to buy online.  The closest supermarkets to the University are Tesco (  and Marks and Spencer (  Most of these larger chains will have ethnic foods and Halal food will be available, but there are also lots of smaller ethnic supermarkets in the University area.   

   The costs of your clothes will very much depend on the type of clothes you wear and how much you intend to pay for clothes.  Clothes can be bought reasonably cheaply in Belfast city centre (shops like Primark which is one of the least expensive), but you can also find shops which sell top end designer brands (e.g. House of Frasier), and lots of shops which sell ranges of clothes between these prices.  

As with food and clothes, students can buy homewares relatively cheaply, or opt for more expensive brands.  It is probably advisable for students to buy the cheaper homewares as most students will live in rented or University accommodation and will not want to bring the items home with them when they return to their home countries.  Most of the big supermarket chains will sell homewares, but other shops may have better offers, and many will offer student packages. 

For a list of ethnic supermarkets please see the 'Shopping' section of this website which also has links to clothes and homewares.

As part of the Welcome and Orientation programme for International students, we will operate shopping trips to Tesco, Ikea and Belfast City Centre.


If you stay in University residences, the cost of utilities like heating, electricity, TV licence etc will be included in the fees.  However, if you intend to live in private sector accommodation, it is likely that these costs will not be included in the accommodation fee and you will have to pay for them separately.  These costs can become quite expensive in Northern Ireland.  It gets quite cold and damp here in the winter, so managing the heating in your accommodation is important.  We will talk to students about this during our Welcome and Orientation programme and give them advice on the best ways to do this. There are several different types of heating – gas, oil and Economy 7 (E7 is the most expensive, it is electricity).  

Electric and heating can be billed on a monthly basis, or can be paid using a metered ‘pay-as-you-go’ system.  If you have this system, you will pay some money up front and would then need to ‘top-up’ once the money ran out.  This doesn’t usually apply to oil heating systems - generally if you have oil heating you have to buy oil directly from oil companies and it is then delivered.  Most rented properties now have ‘pay-as-you-go’ systems.  It is very hard to say how much heating costs as it will depend on how much it is used, the size of the house, the insulation of the house etc. You can find useful tips about saving energy and keeping costs down.  

If you will have a TV in your accommodation, you will need to buy a TV licence

Entertainment and socialising:

This will depend on where and how you socialise.  There is lots to do in Belfast, and as part of our Welcome and Orientation programme we will tell students about the many diverse things Belfast has to offer, where you have to pay for and where you can get in free, where to get student discount etc. 

Our Students’ Union has an excellent financial advisory service and the following link is a great start to budgeting for student life. 

Other useful links are:
Student Calculator 

Opening a bank account

If you are in the UK for less than six months it is not necessary to open a bank account.  Students who are in the UK for less than six months may find it difficult to open any type of bank account in the UK.

If you are in the UK for longer than six months, we would recommend that you open a bank account.  Soon after you arrive in Belfast, you will need to access money to pay for rent, living expenses and tuition fees.  Most international students are only able to open a basic bank account, which does not provide a cheque book or an overdraft facility.

When you open a bank account you will be asked to provide certain proof and documents:

  • A letter from Queen's showing your address and confirming you are a registered student on an eligible course.  You can get this letter from the Student Guidance Centre, or download one from your Queen's Online account once you register;
  • Your original offer letter sent to you by Queen's to your overseas address;
  • Your passport;
  • A letter showing details of any guaranteed funding for your course or scholarships you may be receiving.

There are many different types of bank account and you should check with more than one bank before you open an account.  UKCISA publish a useful guidance note called 'Opening and running a bank account in the UK'.  You will also find the BBA&Education UK leaflet useful.

Remember to keep your bank statements in a safe place, you they will be required if you have to extend your visa in the UK.

Cash and credit cards

When you open a basic bank account  you will probably be given a cash card to withdraw cash from an Automatic Telling Machine (ATM).  Many students, especially those in the UK for less than one year, may also use a credit card (Visa, Mastercard or other credit card), which they have obtained in their home country.  You will be charged a handling fee for each transaction and should check with your own bank on the level of the charge.

Minimising expenditure

Don't rush out and buy every book on your course list.  Many may not be essential and you may be able to get some of them second hand or from the Library.  If you have to pay for healthcare costs (glasses, prescriptions etc) make sure you complete a HC1 form first to see if you are eligible for any financial assistance from the NHS.  Forms are available from your doctor.

Make sure you get all possible student discounts for travel, shopping and your social life.  Carry your student card with you when you are out and look out for shops, restaurants, cinemas, etc. which display offers for student discount. 


Make a list of your regular monthly payments and the dates they come out of your bank account or the date you must make a payment.  Try to arrange your regular payments so that they all come out on the same day.  Always check your bank account to make sure you have enough money to pay all regular payments.

Calculate how much income you have and then deduct the amount of your necessary expenditure (e.g. rent, food, bills, travel).  The amount which is left is your 'disposable income' i.e. money you can spend on yourself.  It's a good idea to save a small amount each week or month to cover emergencies or unexpected costs.  Try to stick to your weekly budget.

Keep a record of what you spend.  After a week/month you can then check your spending and see how accurate your expenditure predictions have been.

If you have any money difficulties, do not wait for your problems to get bigger.  Contact the Money Management Adviser immediately (see below for more details).

Money management advice

Students’ Union Advice Centre

A Money Management Adviser for students and is located in room 02/014 of the Students’ Union Advice Centre on the second floor of the Students’ Union.

 Advice and support is available to all students with regard to managing money whilst at Queen’s which includes budgeting effectively, opening bank accounts, borrowing and saving money, avoiding fraud/identity theft and dealing with problem debt and/or creditors. 

The Students’ Union Advice Centre is licensed by the Office of Fair Trading to provide this advice and this also allows the Money Management Adviser to act on behalf of students with creditors such as credit card companies, banks, social landlords and utility providers e.g. Northern Ireland Electricity, Phoenix Gas and when a student is unable to repay money owed or has a specific problem with the creditor.

Students do not have to be in debt or have a problem use the Money Management service. The adviser is able to provide useful information and guidance on general day to day money issues, as well as consumer matters such as mobile phone accounts and consumer rights when shopping. Money+ is the student led money management project in the University and the project website is also a good source of financial information.

The Students Advice Centre operates a strict confidentiality policy and students seeking money advice can be assured that the details and nature of their query will be dealt with in a confidential and sympathetic manner in accordance with this policy.  Arrangements can be made to meet with the Money Management Adviser at the International and Postgraduate Student Centre if a student would prefer this.

The contact details for the Money Management Adviser are:

Debbie Forsey: Tel 028 90971166
Mobile: 07855059600


  • Keep your bank cards safe
  • Keep your card pin numbers secret
  • Keep your bank statements in a secure place
  • Tell your bank immediately if you lose your cards
  • Tell the bank if you change address  


You will find further information about taking care of your finances at:

Students' Union
British Council

For advice and information about your fees, please contact Income and Student Finance

Opening a UK bank account