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American Student at Queen’s: How I Prepared for the Move to Belfast

Postgraduate student Marieke recently moved to Belfast from the US (with her dog Mara!) Find out how she prepared for the big move and settled in to private housing in the city.

Two students walking through the Quad

I started my journey at Queen’s as a master's student studying Animal Behaviour and Welfare. I remember applying and getting my confirmation letter and thinking “Oh man, this is it! I'm moving to Northern Ireland!” I was so excited but along with that came the fear of "What's next?" and “What do I need to do to be prepared to go?” Here are some things I did to prepare myself for my journey and how I got settled.

What do our American students think of life in Belfast?

Documents, Papers, and more Documents

Moving to a new place can be scary. It is hard to know what is required of you and what you might need or not, especially when it comes to documentation. I know that I certainly was stressed out and felt lost when it came to getting all my ducks in a row. Not all hope is lost, though! Making sure you are prepared by planning ahead of time, leaving extra time to fill out forms, and reading all the paperwork and emails carefully can lead to a successful move.

The first step to getting ready to travel is getting a visa. The best advice I can give is do it as many months in advance as you can. Visas can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks depending on how busy that time is for Immigration Services, as well as if any forms weren't filled out right. Just getting through that process was so helpful and made it easier to get my travel plans organised.

Person holding two American passports

The Immigration Support Service team provides specialist advice in relation to visa and immigration matters

Another recommendation I have is to get some sort of folder to keep all your papers and things in. It was really helpful to know where everything was and have it in one place. Pro tip: get a folder with multiple pockets in it like this one from Amazon. That way you'll be able to sort everything while keeping it tidy and contained.

Some other things to note when it comes to documentation is to really look at what the school needs from you to successfully register for classes. This includes a BRP (Biometric Residence Permit) card (trust me I didn’t know what that was either), a passport, and finally your undergraduate diploma! Reading all the information handed to you can be challenging but it is completely worth it, especially things like the introduction and welcome booklets that give you all the little details you need to be ready.

Housing

When it comes to picking the place you want to live in for the next few years, it can be overwhelming. For me, coming here was particularly scary because I had opted to find private housing instead of taking student accommodation. This is because I ended up travelling here with my dog Mara, and while I do not regret bringing her, it added a huge burden to my settlement. If you feel comfortable and can find private housing, it can be nice, but I would not recommend it to anyone who isn't from the UK if you can avoid it.

Dog in park

Mara's first week in Belfast!

Unfortunately, like most of the world, Northern Ireland’s housing market is really demanding right now, and rent is competitive and expensive, especially for a new student. I had a really hard time finding a place to live and while I love it here, I think that finding student accommodation through the university is an amazing choice if you are able to. From what I have seen of my friend’s accommodation, the housing is really nice, in a good location, and offers way better opportunities to meet friends and attend events.

"The first step to getting ready to travel is getting a visa. The best advice I can give is do it as many months in advance as you can."

If you do choose to try to find private housing, I would recommend giving yourself a few weeks or even a month to find a place to live. Renting involves lots of paperwork such as bank statements and previous employment and can be a long process. Giving ample time to yourself is critical.

Banks

One of the best things you can do when you first start university is to get a bank account. While not all the same, many banks offer international student accounts and perks depending on what type of account you are opening.

My top recommendation would be HSBC for a bank account. They are nice and the process is online, making it simple to fill out an application. Before opening a bank account, it is important to know that many banks, including HSBC, require a letter from the school saying that you are a student and confirming your address. Once you have that it should be smooth sailing.

Pink piggy bank looking down at coins

Make getting a bank account one of your top priorities

One of my biggest mistakes when coming here as an American was joining Monzo, a popular online banking app. While being easy to use and excellent for using in the UK, Monzo does not do international transfers from the US. This means you cannot send any money from a US bank account to yourself, something I didn’t find out until I was charged for a failed international transfer fee.

A Final Word

Moving can be a really challenging experience. I know it hasn’t been perfect for me, but I am so happy I did. I know I made the right choice, and every frustration and challenge were completely worth it. The ultimate advice I can give when you're stressed out, though clichéd, is to just take a breath and try again. I know you can succeed and if you ever need help, don’t be afraid to email or call using the Queen’s help list. There is always someone who can give you a hand.

Find out more

USA: Admissions Guide

Life in Belfast

More blogs by American students

Study Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Marieke Fastovsky

Animal Behaviour and Welfare | Postgraduate Student | USA

I am an MSc student here at Queen's University studying Animal Behaviour and Welfare. Before my time here I studied at my state university in the United States. My main areas of interest are in animal welfare for livestock and I love sharing about what I am learning with others!

When I am not studying I like baking, walking my dog and going out for a drink or a bite to eat.

Marieke Fatovsky
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