What are the cheapest ways to travel across the UK for international students?

For international students studying in the UK, travel within the country can be an exciting opportunity to immerse yourself in British culture and explore the diverse corners of this island nation. However, travel costs can quickly stack up if you don't know the most efficient and economical ways to get around. In this article, we will explore the cheapest ways for international students to traverse the UK, with specific emphasis on the city of London, the use of trains, railcards, and much more.

Exploring London on a tight budget

London, the capital city of the UK, is a must-visit destination for any international student. The city is a cultural melting pot offering a rich blend of history, arts, food, and sports. However, the cost of living and traveling in London can be prohibitive for students on a budget.

Fortunately, there are several ways to save money while exploring London. One of the first things you should do as an international student is to buy an Oyster card. This electronic ticket is an efficient and cheap way to pay for travel on public transport services within the Greater London area. With an Oyster card, you will pay significantly less for your journeys compared to buying a paper ticket.

In addition to your Oyster card, consider purchasing a student travel card for further discounts. The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is recognised globally and can save you money on travel as well as other activities.

Utilising Trains for Cross-Country Travel

Traveling by train is one of the most convenient, efficient, and scenic ways to explore the UK. The country's rail network is expansive and connects even the most remote regions. For international students, train travel could be an affordable way to see the country if done wisely.

Buying rail tickets in advance can save you money. Train fares fluctuate depending on the time of travel, with peak times usually costing more. By avoiding these peak times, you can save a considerable amount of money.

Another way to save is by using a Railcard. The Railcard is a scheme by the UK rail companies that offers discount cards to various groups of people, including young people and students. The 16-25 Railcard, for example, provides a third off rail fares across the UK. It costs just £30 a year, and if you're studying for a longer period, a three-year card is available for £70, offering even better value.

The Advantages of a Railcard

A Railcard will not only save you money on train travel, but it can also offer discounts on certain attractions throughout the UK. This makes it an excellent option for international students looking to explore as much of the UK as possible without breaking the bank.

Each Railcard has specific benefits and rules, but most will provide discounts of up to 1/3rd off of rail fares. This is a significant saving, especially for longer journeys. The card is also not just for your use - you can also get discounts for up to four adults and four children travelling with you.

Remember, the Railcard is not valid during peak travel times, which are usually weekday mornings. But as a student, you likely won't need to travel during these times.

International Student Identity Card (ISIC)

As an international student in the UK, you can apply for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC). This card offers a variety of benefits and discounts, including on travel.

The ISIC card is recognised globally as an official student status identification and offers discounts on travel, accommodation, shopping, and entertainment in over 130 countries. In the UK, you can use the ISIC card for discounts on rail and bus fares, as well as for cheap entry to various attractions.

The ISIC card costs £12 and is valid for 12 months. Considering the benefits it provides, it's a worthy investment for any international student looking to explore the UK and beyond.

Consider Buses for Cheaper, Slower Travel

While trains offer an efficient way to travel long distances quickly, if you're on a tight budget and don't mind taking things a bit slower, buses can be a cheaper alternative.

National Express and Megabus are two long-distance bus companies operating across the UK, offering budget-friendly prices, especially if you book your ticket well in advance. For example, Megabus offers fares from as low as £1 (+50p booking fee) if you book ahead.

Again, as with train travel, try to avoid peak travel times if possible to secure the best fares.

In conclusion, international students have a variety of options to travel cheaply across the UK. From exploring London with an Oyster card and ISIC card to traveling cross-country with a Railcard or by bus, there are numerous ways to save money on your travel. And remember, exploring the UK doesn't have to break the bank.

Split Ticketing: An Effective Way to Save on Train Travel

The concept of split ticketing is an excellent way to save money for international students. This method involves buying multiple tickets for various sections of a single journey, rather than one ticket for the entire journey. Oddly enough, this method can often be cheaper, even though you're travelling on the exact same train.

First, let's clarify what 'split ticketing' means. It does not mean you have to change trains at every station you've bought a ticket for. Instead, you remain on the same train throughout your journey. The idea behind split ticketing is to make the most of the different pricing structures for different parts of the network.

For example, if you're travelling from London to Manchester, buying a single ticket directly might be pricier than purchasing separate tickets for London to Birmingham, Birmingham to Stoke-On-Trent, and Stoke-On-Trent to Manchester.

There are several websites and apps, such as TrainPal, RailYatri, and SplitTicketing.com, that specialise in finding the best split ticketing options. They do all the hard work, so you don't have to manually search for each segment of your journey. Just ensure to read the terms and conditions.

Remember, while split ticketing is perfectly legal, you must make sure that the train you're on stops at all the destinations you've bought tickets for.

Navigating London Underground with a Student Oyster Photocard

The London Underground, often referred to as 'the Tube', is the heart of London's public transport system. As an international student, a Student Oyster Photocard can help you navigate this vast network at reduced prices.

The Student Oyster Photocard is a variant of the standard Oyster card, aimed specifically at students aged 18 and over. It offers a 30% discount on adult-rate Travelcards and Bus & Tram Pass season tickets. You can apply for this card if you're enrolled with a participating educational establishment registered on the TfL Scheme, and you're living in London during term time.

The Student Oyster Photocard costs £20, but considering the savings you can make with it, the card pays for itself in no time. Once you have it, remember to touch in and out on the yellow card readers at the start and end of every journey to ensure you're charged the correct fare.

Commuting in the London Underground during off-peak hours (between 9.30 am and 4 pm Monday to Friday, and all day on weekends and public holidays) can also save you some money, as fares during this time are cheaper.


Traveling across the UK as an international student doesn't have to be expensive. With the right knowledge and a few travel hacks like the Oyster card, Railcard, split ticketing, and strategic use of buses and the London Underground, you can explore the country's rich cultural diversity without draining your wallet.

Being aware of peak fares, booking advance fares, taking advantage of student discounts, and exploring long-distance bus options are all great ways to save money. So, don't just stick to your university town, venture out and explore everything the UK has to offer!

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