Tips (part 1) Phones, banking, electricity, internet
Now that the end of the semester has come and gone, I figured I would dedicate a few blog posts to some helpful tips that I’ve been keeping track of ever since I started studying abroad. The list just kept growing, and it feels like there are too many things I’ve learned and I’m not sure what would be most helpful. But here is the list, and definitely contact me or ask questions if you are a student about to go abroad. This will be specific to Scotland and St. Andrews, but it’s all pretty universal for traveling. A last note — a lot of this you learn in IFSA butler orientation, but it’s also good to know before hand as well!
Getting a phone in the UK is pretty cheap compared to the US. For short term studying getting the cheapest old fashioned phone to “top up” is the most functional option to get some texts and calling minutes. I didn’t get a UK number since there was wifi pretty much all around campus. At times it would’ve been convenient to have one but I was OK. But you can decide for yourself– most of the people I know got a UK phone.
Also just fyi, I discovered shortly after arriving that t-mobile here is different from t-mobile in the US. The international t-mobile doesn’t actually work with local numbers, because they don’t have an international plan. But if any of your friends or family have t-mobile it is quite a helpful feature.
Money and banking
There are several options for how to spend money in a different currency – most of the time I used a BOA travel credit card, as credit cards usually have the best exchange rates, and I didn’t have to carry wads of cash around. Most places take credit card, but for the few instances where you need to use cash — try not to get cash from the airport, there are several agencies in Edinburgh that do currency exchanges (which is where orientation is). I made the mistake of going to the post office because there was no commission, but the exchange rate was not good especially for small amounts of money. If you’re a BOA customer, Barcalays is a partner bank and there is one in Edinburgh and St. Andrews, and of course it opened just as I left!
Don’t forget an adapter! Or you can easily get one in the UK, I got mine in poundsaver for 4 pounds I believe. I forgot to bring one because I thought it was just for voltage conversion, but it’s actually for the shape of the plug as well.. Whoops!
There is basically wifi in all the St. Andrews buildings, famously called ‘eduroam’ on campus. On the web, there are subtle differences for what comes up, and many of these you will just learn through trial and error. For example pandora and songza don’t work in the UK, but instead spotify is the UK music player. And I don’t have netflix but for many this is important — UK netflix has a different selection of shows as the US! It’s fun to see what is different and how it is reflective of the cultural differences between the US and the Scotland.