Safety in the UK
We here at LondonStudyGuide.com greatly encourage travel and exploration as one of the greatest, most exciting learning experiences that life has to offer. Yet, we acknowledge that travel to a foreign culture – any foreign culture - is something that demands thorough preparation so as to minimize risks. With this thought we would like to offer this list of advice and common sense tips for both abiding by British law and keeping yourself safe. Please read it thoroughly and may your London sojourn be happy, healthy and, above all, very safe.
When arriving in a new country it's very easy to lose track of personal belongings as you shuffle on and off planes, metros, buses, and in and out of various hotels and shops. Here are a few sensible points to help avoid the loss of any personal items at this stage.
- Be sure to bring cash, not a lot, but enough to cover your immediate expenses. If you have a credit card bring this to pay for such things as hotels or any items which you might rent. Also be sure to have some change handy should, for instance, you need to use a public telephone.
- All money items (cash, credit cards, cheques) should be carried in as secure a place as possible such as in an inside pocket or a money belt. If you have traveller's cheques, record the serial numbers and store them separate from your passport. If you happen to lose cheques or credit cards waste no time in reporting the loss to the police as well as the companies which issued them. Be certain to label every piece of your luggage with both your name and address. If you do happen to lose a piece of luggage report the loss immediately to your airline, train or shipping firm. Check any lost property office if one is available. Last, make sure that you know the telephone number of your school in case you have to inform them of any delays, or if you need advice or help.
- Be sure to keep your passport, tickets and any other travel documents in a very safe place. Before your departure it's a good idea to copy your ENTIRE passport. Keep these copied pages separate from your real passport so that if you lose one, you still have the other. If you do lose your passport be sure to contact both the police and your embassy without delay.
- If for any reason you must leave your luggage be sure to use a left luggage office where you'll get a receipt which you then use to collect it later. Sometimes luggage lockers with keys are available in bus and train stations too. As for taxis, be sure to use ONLY a licensed taxi with a license plate on the back and be sure the driver has a permit too. This should be in plain sight on the vehicle's dashboard along with his/her photo. If you happen to have some sense of distance and cost (information you might have gotten from your school, a friend or even a travel guide) it can be helpful to ask the driver how much he/she will charge from point A to point B. This way you have committed the driver to a certain price and thus won't be overcharged. The black cabs have a reputation for being safe and honest. Some “minicabs” on the other hand are likely cheaper but might be unlicensed. Also know that while chatting is fine you should never offer any sensitive or personal information to a driver or anyone unfamiliar to you for that matter. Identity protection is of paramount concern in this day and age. Be careful with how much info you offer in any situation (on social networks too!). If you have reason to believe that your personal information has been compromised, Action Fraud is available. Call 0300 123 2040
Upon your arrival it is also important that you take out insurance to protect against possible theft or damage. It's also advisable for any student to to take out medical insurance. There are insurance policies specifically for protecting the health and possessions of international students visiting and studying in the UK. If you plan to drive in the UK you must insure a car before driving it. You can find insurance information on most campuses. Student unions and banks can provide information too. For advice and a full list of insurance brokers contact The Association of British Insurers.
The British Police and Other Protective Organizations
The British police are committed to the safety and security of everyone in the UK, citizens and visitors alike. Never hesitate to approach an officer or contact a local police department should you feel the need. In case of an emergency you can dial 999 from any telephone for police, ambulance or fire brigade. If you happen to witness a crime, use the following number to make a completely anonymous call to the police:
0800 555 1111
The information is forwarded to the police and your identity remains unknown to them. If you are worried that your English is insufficient have someone from your school or host family help you.
Depending on country of origin, certain students studying in London must register their stay with the Overseas Visitors Records Office within one week of arrival in the country. Anyone outside of London must register with local police. Some schools provide registration sessions. If your school does not then it is your responsibility to provide the O.V.R.O. (or local police) with your information. You will need a letter from your institution confirming that you are studying there. You must include course details, proof of address, passport, two photos and pay a registration fee (roughly GBP 30.00).
In the unlikely event that you are the target of any crime (theft, assault, stalking) or are threatened with a crime you must not hesitate to report it to the local police. The police have many translators available so language barrier will not be a problem. In the case of lost money or property you will be assigned a crime reference number. You will need this number later to process any insurance claim.
The UK is a civilized, tolerant society whose laws are designed to discourage prejudice against minority groups. But if you feel that you have been the target of a hate crime or discrimination or harassment based on race, gender, religious or sexual orientation you should inform your school, which should have procedures in place for dealing with such situations. If, for whatever reason, you feel this isn't enough then contact the local branch of Equality and Human Rights which will provide guidance and advice at 0845 604 6610.
UK Laws and the Power of Arrest
As much as British police are there to protect you should also know that they have the power to arrest anyone who misbehaves in certain ways. Given this and the fact that law is something which can vary dramatically from one country to the next, it's a good idea to be familiar with some of Britain's major laws. Here are a few important ones:
- The UK is absolutely unlike another famous English-speaking country, the US, in that it is positively illegal to carry any sort of weapon including knives, guns, stun guns and self-defense sprays.
- Unless prescribed by a doctor, you cannot be in possession of drugs including (but not limited to) marijuana, amphetamines, barbiturate pills, LSD, cocaine and ecstasy.
- You must be eighteen to purchase or use alcohol or tobacco.
- The British police can arrest you if they suspect you have committed any crime. They can also arrest you if you fail to make an appearance in court when summoned, refuse to give your name and address to an officer or fail or refuse to pay a fine. They have the right to stop and search you if they believe you are in possession of any illicit drugs, weapons or stolen property.
- If you are arrested in the UK you have the right to remain silent until you consult with a legal counselor – though anything you say or don't say can later be held against you in a court when trying to determine your guilt or innocence.
- It's your right to see a legal counselor upon request and free of charge. The counselor may be present when you are questioned (which is advisable). There is one exception, however, the police have the right to give you a breath analysis any time they wish, before or after you receive any legal advice.
- You can be detained by police for up to 24 hours before they must request an extension should they wish to keep you longer. Whether such an extension is desired or granted largely depends on the severity of the crime in question.
If you should be in need of any legal advice one place you can go to is the Citizens Advice webpage.
Other Ways to Stay Safe
- Try to use common sense with your belongings. Lock everything: apartment, bike, etc. Purchase and use a safe for smaller items of value. Make a list of all your possessions, mark everything with a non-erasable or ultraviolet pen. Register your most valuable possessions with Immobilise Phone Crime. If something is stolen, call 08701 123 123.
- Memorize your mobile phone's 15 digit IMEI number in case it is stolen.
- Know that most schools have a secure storage facility for student's to use. Make use of it.
- Don't generally make flashy displays with your valuables, especially in public.
- Remain safe and secure by always locking doors and windows when away, which is a surprising deterent to burglars. Know that burglary is most common during the day and during the winter months.
- Always change the locks when you move into a new flat.
- Purchase any additional security you can such as a chain lock or an intercom system.
- If you have a door entry system label it with only your last name and if you make use of an answering machine be sure to have your message say: “No one is here at the moment.”. These things make it unclear to a would be intruder as to whether one or multiple people live at the residence.
- Be sure to tell a friend or neighbor to keep watch when going away for an extended period.
- If you arrive home and see signs of a break in – DON'T ENTER! Contact the police immediately.
- Take further preventative measures by contacting your local crime prevention officer who will have lots of advice for you.
On the Streets and Public Transportation
British streets and public transport are generally quite safe and the British tend to be a polite and respectful people. Still, here are a few common sense points to help you stay safe.
- Always walk in groups and walk in well-lit, frequently traversed, public areas.
- Don't ever leave sight of any personal belongings you go out with: jacket, bag, telephone, wallet, etc.
- Always have your mobile with you and enough change to make a call on a public telephone should you lose your mobile or should the battery die.
- Never accept drinks or food from strangers and never leave your drink unattended. Someone could spike it.
- Always have your pin number memorized. Never write it and never give it out to anyone.
- Try not to wait at bus stops alone.
- On the train or underground avoid empty cars which could tempt muggers.
- Know train, bus and underground schedules.
- Keep personal belongings, both large and small, within your sight at all times.
- If travelling a long distance make sure a friend knows your schedule.
- Always stay alert, don't let your guard down. Don't talk on your mobile or listen to your I-Pod while walking. This makes you a perfect, unsuspecting target.
- In case of emergency you can contact The British Transport Police at freephone 0800 40 50 40
Driving and Cycling in the UK
To be able to drive in England (or Scotland or Wales) an international student must be familiar with the region's rules of the road. First and foremost you must have a valid driver's license which permits you to drive in these regions. You may be able to use your existing license, which will entirely depend on what country said license was issued in.
International students not from EEA can drive with a valid driving license from their own country or an international driving permit for one year. After this initial year you must arrange to take the complete UK driving test.
A car being driven in the UK must be insured, registered and must have its excise tax currently paid. It must also have a MOT certificate if more than three years old.
Licenses in the UK are issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
A guide for driving in England, Wales and Scotland can be found at the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) webpage.
The highway driving code, which includes all UK driving laws, can be found at the The Highway Code website.
Here are a few more facts and tips:
- You must understand that you will face prosecution if you are caught driving without a valid license, car insurance or an unpaid excise tax.
- In the UK you must drive on the LEFT and pass on the right.
- If the police catch you speeding (driving faster than the speed limit) then you will receive points on your license. Accumulation of 12 points will result in loss of license.
- Drivers and front seat passengers must wear seat belts. Passengers in the rear must wear them if seat belts are present.
- You cannot drive after drinking alcohol.
- Be sure to be part of a roadside assistance organization in case your vehicle breaks down.
- Always wear a helmet and reflective gear.
- Many British cities (London included), towns and rural areas have designated cycling lanes and paths. Many schools will provide maps which include these lanes/paths.
- You should know that in cities such as London certain biking lanes are shared with buses and pedestrians and thus demand extra caution. In general it is best to stay behind buses at a safe distance. Maneuvering around them is particularly dangerous and should be avoided.
Detailed information on British lights and traffic signs can be found at The Highway Code webpage.