7 Things to do before your planes lands and once you alight at a UK International Airport

As I mentioned in my previous post, I learnt many things on my first flight to England as an international  student. I learnt a few things before the plane landed and even after I arrived at the airport. If you are travelling to the UK by air, you will arrive at one of London’s main international airports, i.e Heathrow or Gatwick, or one of the big regional airports, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Here are a few tips you will certainly find find useful.

arrival at London 1

1) Remember to Complete a landing card

A landing card is a form that non- European Economic Area (EEA) citizens are required to complete on entry to the United Kingdom. You must present the completed form at the immigration desk at the point of entry. The form is usually supplied by the airline you are travelling with. The pilot usually would make a pre-arrival announcement at least 20 minutes before you arrive at the Airport ( Heathrow or Gatwick; or one of the big regional airports depending on where you are going). During this time an air hostess would walk down the aisle with landing cards in her hands.

If you are non-EEA citizen, I recommend you take one and  complete it before the plane lands.

2) Keep your landing card in the same place as your Passport

Keeping your landing card in the same place as your passport will save you time when you get to passport control. This is because you will need to present your landing card, passport and visa, including your letter from the university to the immigration officer at the point of entry.

You  must pass through immigration control first (before collecting your luggage). There are usually two main queues: one for European Economic Area and Swiss nationals, and one for everyone else. Make sure you join the correct queue. An Immigration Officer will look at your passport and check your Visa/Entry Clearance.Usually the officer will scan your passport and check your landing card and other details to make sure you have the right to enter the UK. The officer may ask you for more information about your visit to this country before giving you permission to enter.

Please put any documents relevant to your stay in your hand luggage, so they are available if the officer asks for them. This may include your travel itinerary, work permit, or university or sponsorship letter.

3) Ensure that your Entry Clearance has been stamped before leaving Immigration Control

Before leaving Immigration Control, check that the Immigration Officer has put a date stamp (if you had a Visa or Entry Clearance) in your passport; or (if you are a non-Visa national coming for a course of less than six months) check that you have been stamped in as a ‘Student Visitor’. After immigration control, you should head to the the baggage collection area to collect your baggage.

4)  Fill a lost baggage form If you can’t find your baggage.

At most airports baggage is unloaded on to one of a number of moving belts (‘carousels’) in the baggage collection area. Look for your flight number and the name of the place your flight departed from on the screens ( or above the carousels) and wait for each item of your baggage to appear.Once you’ve gotten your bags off the carousel, immediately check them for damage or other signs of tampering or mishandling. Report any damage before leaving the airport.

If your baggage does not come through, find a representative of the airline you travelled with and fill in a lost baggage form.

Don’t panic if you can’t find your baggage. The airlines typically have ways to track them, and about 99 percent of all misplaced luggage is returned eventually. If your bags are on the next flight, you could have them within a few hours. If they’ve been sent to the wrong airport, it could take a couple of days. Make sure to file your claim immediately at the airport and to give the attendant a hotel or home address, as well as a phone number where you can be reached. I advise that you read my post on 5 things to do before heading for the airport.

The airlines will typically bring you your luggage when it is found; you will rarely need to return to the airport to pick it up.

5) Ensure to Go Through the Right Customs Channel

When you have collected all your luggage you must pass through Customs control. Most Airports in the UK have 3 exit ( known as channels). If you are carrying goods that are banned or restricted (e.g drugs, offensive weapons, food or plants from outside the European Union, etc), you must declare them. To do this, you must speak to one of the immigration officers. Use the Red Channel if you have banned or restricted goods to declare.

If you are traveling to the UK from a country outside the European Union and are carrying 10,000 Euros or more in cash, bankers draft or cheque of any kind (about £6,750 in pounds sterling or the equivalent in other currencies) you will be required to declare this at customs. Otherwise take the Green channel if you have nothing to declare and you are travelling from outside the European Union. Use the blue channel if you are travelling from a country in the European Union with no banned or restricted goods.

Forms on which to make the declaration will be available when you arrive and you will be given a copy of the completed form, which you should keep safely as evidence that you have made a declaration. Please note that a penalty of up to £5,000 can be imposed if you do not make this declaration or provide incorrect or incomplete information.

Note: The countries of the EU are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, (including the Canary Islands), Sweden and the United Kingdom (not including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).

6) Call Home When you Arrive

Endeavour to  call home one you arrive. Remember your loved ones are keen to know you have arrived safely.

Most London airports have vending machines in the arrival hall where you can buy SIM cards or even cheap mobile phones to call home once you arrive. You will find public telephones at all airports and bus stations and on the high streets. Instructions on how to use them are displayed next to the telephone. They accept coins from 20 pence upwards and many phone boxes also accept credit cards, or phone cards

Do not use this telephones at the airport to make calls overseas as it is usually cheaper to use an international calling card. You could buy phone cards online or from some newsagents or kiosks in the UK. Alternatively You can even obtain a local UK SIM  when you arrive and send a text message home in the meantime.

Note that you don’t have really to pay for SIM cards. There are hundreds of mobile phone shops in London who will give you free sim cards on pay-as-you-go or monthly contracts. Shop around for the best deals when you come.

7)  Travelling to your destination in the UK

Many London universities will be at Heathrow Airport to welcome you when you land. A team of student ambassadors will be waiting to help you find your way to campus. Most universities arrange to collect students from the airport or train station. Details of any services like this should be included in the information your college or university sent you. If you want to use these services, you may need to book in advance.

If you haven’t made any arrangements, Then I suggest that you use the bus, tube or rail service- especially if you are heading towards Central

London. Bus services are the usually the cheapest form of public transport, but it  usually take longer than the Underground, due to the large amount of traffic on the roads. Many local bus services do not have much luggage space, although services from airports and train stations may have more.

Buses may be very busy at ‘rush hour’ on weekdays (Monday to Friday). ‘Rush hour’ is between approximately 8am and 9.30am and again between 5pm and 6.30pm. This is when most people are travelling to and from their place of work.  You can find information on www.tfl.gov.uk for transport advice on bus, tube, train and other services in London. The cheapest and easiest way to travel by public transport is using a pre-paid electronic ticket called the Oyster card. I suggest you read my Post on 6 Money-saving cards that International students should know of. 

Irrespective of where you are going, Look around in the airport and you should find the Tourist Information desk. They should be able to help you with whatever information you need. Information can also be obtained on the British Tourist Authority Website www.visitbritain.com)

If you are disabled you may want to check out  Directgov Disabled People and Transport webpages. Another good website is www.dptac.independent.gov.uk/door-to-door designed to give disabled and less mobile people advice about travel using all forms of transport.

Taxis are also a convenient means of transportation but they are quite expensive. Taxi’s are very useful if you have plenty luggage. There are two types of taxis in London , as in many other UK cities; A pre-booked ‘mini-cab” which can be arranged before you land and the famous Black Cab public Taxi which cannot be pre-booked and is more expensive for long journeys.  ‘Public hire’ taxis or ‘ black cabs’ taxis are licensed to pick up passengers without advance booking.

In many cases Private hire’ taxis, or ‘minicabs’  can be found directly outside  the Airport, in front of a train Station or at designated ‘Taxi Ranks’. Minicabs often do not have a ‘Taxi’ sign, although they should display a company name or other official taxi identification. Generally, they are cheaper than the ‘black cabs’, as the fare is calculated on the distance travelled. Public hire or ‘black cabs’ taxis can be extremely expensive, especially in London, as the meter runs the whole time you are in the cab (including when you are stuck in traffic!).

If you arrive in London without accommodation there are hotel booking agencies at all the major train stations, which can help you find accommodation . Alternatively, you may go to one of the London Tourist Board offices at Liverpool Street Station, Victoria Station or Heathrow Airport if you arrive there. Do not accept offers from agents who may approach you at train stations (especially Victoria)!


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