The United Kingdom is home to one of the most advanced transport networks in the world, comprising over 200,000 miles of paved roads, extensive bus routes, trains reaching each corner of the country, amazing tube connections, ferries, taxis, trams and numerous airports.
Foreigners can find a few challenges when travelling in the UK, especially in large cities like London. The transport links can get overwhelming buys during rush hours, and being stuck in traffic or in a train packed with people can get frustrating.
We have prepared this Guide for international students to prepare them for the British traffic and share some important information and facts about transport in the UK.
Driving in the UK
If you are planning to bring your car to the UK, you will need to bring extensive paperwork with you, and insure your car to be able to drive on UK roads. Alternatively, you can hire a car, look into several hire companies to get the best price, and be sure to look out for additional charges.
The UK still uses the imperial system for road signs, these are in miles per hour, one mile is roughly 1.6 kilometres. To avoid converting the speed limit into kilometres, you can learn the generic limits. It is unusual to find speed limit signs in the UK unless the speed limit is different from the standard speed for that road type.
Built-up areas – 30mph (48kmph)
Single carriageways – 60mph (96kmph)
Dual carriageways and motorways – 70pmh (112kmph)
Areas with a lot of pedestrians and school zones – 20mph (32kmph)
Roads with sharp bends – 50mph (80kmph)
Roads are divided into 3 main types, which dictate the speed limits. Motorways are high-speed roads (70mph), usually named with an M prefix or suffix. Junctions and exits are announced with several signs starting a mile in advance. Slow vehicles and pedestrians are forbidden from entering the motorway.
Primary roads (A and B) are smaller and slower roads which consist of both dual and single carriageways with green signs and white text. B-roads are mostly regional and serve the purpose of connecting less populated areas. Non-primary roads (A and B) are often single carriageways close to primary roads. The signs are white with black writing, and found in residential areas.
Road-tips and etiquette
- Use of a car horn is not permitted in built-up areas between 11.30 pm and 7 am
- In traffic, always let at least one car in at junctions and exits where possible.
- Don’t queue jump ( drive up the wrong lane and try to get in late). Drivers will block you deliberately.
- Flash your lights or blink hazard lights to say “thank you”, “you’re welcome” or “go ahead”
- Allow emergency services to pass safely and legally, pull out where possible and never stop in the middle of the road.
- On narrow roads, vehicles coming uphill are always given priority.
- There is no “fast lane” on motorways, you should only leave the left-hand lane to overtake a vehicle, and signal with your indicator while doing so.
- Police can arrest you for driving below the speed requirement.
- Don’t drive close to the car in front, maintain a safe, legal braking distance.
The train network in the UK is well established and extensive, with over 2,500 stations. Using the railway is an easy and fast way to travel across one city, or to different areas in the UK. You can travel from London to Scotland in as little as 4 hours by train!
Majority of the train lines are focused in London and radiate out to most major towns, which are also connected to each other by direct trains or links through regional hubs. Smaller towns may have less frequent trains or might need to change a few times to reach their destination.
You can purchase train tickets online, at the train station or from large travel agents. The prices vary, but on average a first-class ticket is 3 times more expensive than the standard fares, and purchasing a return ticket is cheaper than two single way tickets. There are four types of ticket fares in the UK; Anytime, Off-peak, Super off-peak, Advance, you should always check if the rail operator offers student discounts or railcards.
Bus and Coach travel is the cheapest option for travel in the UK. Buses usually operate within a local city, while coaches are intercity buses, connecting two towns, or providing access to distant airports.
You can find bus schedules and routes online, and there are plenty of services which can even plan out your journey based on your starting location and destination. In the majority of the UK, you can purchase bus tickets on the bus, or order a coach ticket online. However, in London, you have to have an oyster card or a pre-bought ticket.
Transport in London
If you are planning to stay in London, or to visit for a weekend, you should have a look at the TfL website. London transport is excellent, with numerous bus routes, a well designed underground and overground service, trams, ferries on the Thames river. It is part of the attraction of London, to use public travel services.
You can purchase tickets with student discounts, and if you are studying in London you can apply for a student travel card, which will give you a 30% discount on monthly tickets. The TfL website offers a journey planner, and lets you take the best route to reach your destination.